Kenan Fellows Program Logo and page header graphic

Adapting Lessons to Support Students with Severe Disabilities

Manipulate Materials

Lessons typically require that children manipulate materials in some way. For most children this will be accomplished through a physical interaction. For children who have significant physical difficulties and can’t use their upper extremities, you can help them manipulate materials by using one or more of the following approaches.

  • The teacher, assistant or student partner can use hand over hand assistance to help the student manipulate materials. With this approach, the teacher, assistant, or student partner takes the students hand and assist them in manipulating materials (i.e., help student feel, hold, etc. the material that is being used in the task).
  • During this task be sure to describe the material and information the student will need to learn from this activity especially if the student is visually impaired.
  • Simple Voice output devices: The student can utilize simple voice output devices to respond, answer questions, and participate in classroom discussions. The teacher can program messages into the simple devices and the student can activate the device at the appropriate time in the activity, to answer a question, etc. These devices can be borrowed from various resources such as North Carolina Assistive Technology Project lending libraries, school assistive technology teams, speech and/or occupational therapy departments, or purchased from vendors.

Websites for devices:


Have student work with partner and the partner manipulates the materials and have comments or response on a simple voice output device so the student can discuss materials (i.e., let me see that again, help me to do it, I want a turn, etc.) or tell the partner what to do with the material.

  • Use adapted materials either purchased or some that you would find online to allow the student the ability to manipulate materials.