Special Needs Back to School Tools 2020

By Susan McLester

Whether for the classroom or at home, having the right school supplies can be an important support for students, especially those with special needs.

The Fall 2020 back to school window is rife with uncertainties and untested circumstances. Some students will be learning in a classroom, others in a home environment and still others in a hybrid situation. As we have already witnessed, these arrangements are subject to change at a moment’s notice.

Helping students feel secure, prepared and excited about learning is key to their academic success. For students with special needs, this is particularly true, especially during the pandemic when overwhelmed parents and educators must take on a host of new challenges.

Having the right back-to-school supplies can be a motivation and strong support for students with learning difficulties. Below, is a mix of traditional and 21st-century tools that students can utilize in a variety of learning settings.

Online Planner.

Learners with ADHD or other executive functioning issues often struggle with remembering assignments, planning ahead and organizing their time, and can especially benefit from an online planner geared to their needs. Reminders, check off boxes and other organizing tools can keep kids on track.

Pencils and Markers.

Writing and drawing utensils allow students to brighten up their notes and assignments.

Pencil sharpener.

Basic, but necessary, a reliable pencil sharpener is a staple. Ensure your learner doesn’t get derailed by something as simple as the lack of a sharp pencil.


A ruled notebook for taking notes, writing, working out math problems, practicing handwriting or just doodling is another important organizational tool.

Post-It Notes.

Colorful Post-Its are an easy way to help mark important pages in books, notebooks or planners and are a fun method to actively engage students in the learning process.

An Internet-Connected Device.

A laptop, desktop, chrome book, iPod, notebook or even a phone are key tools for distance learning, though most districts can also accommodate learners without Internet access through mail-in and/or drop-off packets. For many special needs students, multimedia delivered online is an essential tool and positively supports their learning.


Learning in a home environment with limited space, or with many people around can be a challenge. Headphones block out distractions and help students with learning disabilities focus on work without distraction.

Multi-Function Printer.

Completing assignments online and printing out work allows learners to enlarge, copy and easily enhance color or illustrations. For younger learners, a printer allows parents to print out worksheets and projects, and educators to print notes and lesson plans. Some printers are also hands-free and voice-activated, which can be a great support for challenged learners.

Lap Desk.

When kids are at home and looking for a leisurely spot to do schoolwork, such as the couch, the floor or a comfy reading alcove, a lap desk can be the perfect, lightweight portable solution. These flat-topped, padded underside desks can stabilize technology devices and ease ergonomic concerns.

Strictly Fun and Motivational. 

Gearing up for a new fall semester, can be very motivational and exciting for students. Celebrate the opening of school with a new backpack and/or school clothes that signal the end of the summer season and the beginning of a return to studies.


Susan McLester is a consultant for the MindPlay online literacy solution, an education journalist and former educator.