4 Small Business Ideas for Students with High Support Needs

life skills teacherspayteachers teaching experience transition planning Sep 08, 2023

The mindset that students with higher support needs (aka severe to profound, multi-needs, low functioning) don’t have the ability or interest to engage in vocational training is outdated.   


Working 9-5 is not everyone’s dream and meaningfully contributing to one’s community regardless of pay is reason enough to engage in vocational activities.  


Graduate from the idea that students with higher support needs can only engage in vocational task boxes and set up a small business.  


Whether you choose to run a small student business to increase cash flow, provide opportunities for communication, or to simply engage in the community, developing appropriate vocational activities will be worthwhile for your students.  


4 Student Small Business Ideas for Students with High Support Needs 


1. Popcorn

Who doesn’t love popcorn?!? Making and selling popcorn is a small business you could use for profit or for fun because popcorn is a hit with everyone!   Consider offering fresh popcorn weekly during school lunch periods, in the staff cafeteria, when special groups come for all day meetings, at the end of final exams days, or any other unique schedule.  

Adaptive Equipment 

  1. Popcorn Kernels 2. Popcorn Air Popper 3. Large Plastic Bin for Mixing 4. Popcorn Hand Scoop 5. Popcorn Powder Seasonings 6. Popcorn Bags 7. Thank You Stickers for Bags 8. Hand Press Stapler 9. Switch Adapter 10. Large Hand Switch 11. Small Finger Switch 12. Switch Activated Spinner


What It Looked Like

Use the switch operated spinner to choose a popcorn flavor, use a switch to operate the popcorn machine, and use large motion shaking to tumble the flavors onto the popcorn.  Use a handy food scoop to gently fill the bags and use an adaptive stapler to close up the bags.  For a more customized approach, use a custom stamp (Ex- thanks for supporting a small business) and have students stamp the bags before being filled and stapled.  



It’s relatively low cost as popcorn kernels, bags, and butter and/or salt are the only recurring costs.  So many opportunities for using switches and participation.  Remember, students do not need to be in charge of both making AND selling for it to be a valuable and important vocational experience.  


*Making popcorn was a weekly vocational experience for students in my high supports needs transition group.  We would use all the materials mentioned above and students would take the bags of popcorn to staff as a treat.  This experience gave students an opportunity to use their communication systems, to greet, ask questions, and follow up questions, and to socialize with staff they didn’t see as often but enjoyed being around.  It was a highlight day of the week for many staff! 

2. Can Crusher

The type of small business where people give you things for free (aluminum cans) and you profit from a little work (crushing)!  If your school sells drinks in aluminum cans or you can access local community spaces that do (think bowling alleys, office buildings with pop machines, restaurants, etc) then you can gather the products you would need to make this small business possible.  


Adaptive Equipment 

1.Manual Can Crusher 2. Foot Activated Can Crusher 3. Electric Can Crusher 4. Pasta Spoon 5. Collapsible Recycling Bin 6. Switch Adapter 7. Large Hand Switch 8. Small Finger Switch

What It Looked Like

Using collapsible recycling bins to hold uncrushed and crushed cans, mount the can crusher to a wall and teach students how to load, crush, and safely push the can into the recycling bin below (using a noodle spatula to keep hands away from sharp edges).  For students who need adaptive support, use the foot-powered or electric can crusher with a switch.  



Once you have gathered a fair amount of crushed cans you can recycle them for cash at a local recycling center.  While the rate won’t buy your class a new set of desks, it will definitely offset a few treats on your way back to school.  

3. Watering Plants

While building staff might love to have plants adorning their offices, taking care of those plants might get lost in the day-to-day busyness.  School staff (or any local business sites) request a plant in their classroom or office for free and students come by weekly to water the plants as needed.  


Adaptive Equipment 

  1. Battery Operated Single Press Spray Bottle 2. Squeeze Bottles 3. Long Neck Squeeze Bottle 4. Drip Watering Spike 5. Universal Plastic Bottle Watering Cap 6. Electric Watering Backpack with Long Neck Sprayer


What It Looked Like

Buy a set of plants and pots or advertise as BYOP (Bring your own plant) and set a schedule to water 1-2 times a week.  Depending on your students’ needs, use watering squeeze bottles, single trigger spray bottles, or adaptive cap watering cans that can be attached to any plastic bottle top (like a 2 liter or small plastic water bottle), a long neck squeeze bottles for students who use a wheelchair or are shorter, or a watering backpacks and electric sprayer for students with weak fine motor or who use a wheelchair.   Whether students are watering for time (so many seconds), until the soil feels wet, or until the leaves are all wet, there are a variety of ways to ‘water’ plants to keep them thriving! 



This is an opportunity to practice social communication, manners in social spaces (knocking before entering, being quiet if someone is on the phone, etc), using signs or visuals for go/stop/more.  This is a skill that would be ideal for students who want to volunteer in their community in the future as landscaping and nurseries would need workers to complete this very task on a near daily basis.  Also, this does not have to be limited to indoor plants! 

4. Recycling Pick-Up

An advanced take on the ‘put in, take out’ skill, gathering recycling to bring to the central pick-up location is a small business idea that could take your students into a variety of settings.  While we utilized the other school district buildings when my students recycled, you could access a variety of local businesses (think large office buildings) and offer this service.  


Adaptive Equipment 

  1. Push/Pull Wagon 2. Adaptive Bike Trailer 3. Collapsible Recycling Bin 4. Garbage Bin on Rolling Castors


What It Looked Like

If your students are motivated by using an adaptive bike (consult with OT and PT regarding appropriateness for adaptive bike) or they would be traveling a long distance with heavy bins of recycling, consider using an adaptive bike trailer or wagon for pick-up and transportation.  Set a schedule for pick-up and have students gather the bins and pour or pick-up and transfer the recycling into a larger container on the trailer or wagon.  One student could also be in charge of a list of room number visuals and check off/move to Done for each room as it is cleared of the recycling.  



Recycling could look like paper, plastic, boxes, etc, depending on your area.  If you have students who use a wheelchair they could assist by pushing or pulling the wagon or garbage can on castor wheels (either empty or filled).  

Looking for other ideas for materials to support your students?  Check out my Amazon Favorites page for more OR watch my Instagram Story reviews of how I used everything in my own classroom.  


 *This post includes affiliate links and I earn a very, very, very small commission from the sales of these items.   




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