Homeschooling children with special needs

Career & Education

Homeschooling children with special needs

5. Create a Comfortable
Learning Space

Sunday, April 05, 2020

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Thanks to the spread of coronavirus disease, not only do many parents have to work remotely, they have the added responsibility of monitoring their children's home-based learning. It goes without saying that such a situation can be quite challenging for both parents and children alike; especially those with special needs.

Creative Language-Based Learning Foundation (CLBLF), which has been working with students with language-based learning disabilities across the island since 2017, had some suggestions for parents that should help them cope better.

“Homeschooling a child with special needs won't really look much different from homeschooling a typically developing child,” says Mary McDonald, lead educational consultant at CLBLF.

“Things that can be a challenge are taking into consideration how much anxiety a change in routine can create. The sooner you can create a predictable schedule, the better. You want your child to feel that they have some level of control over their day and environment,” she advised.

“It is also important to make sure that as parents you have an understanding of your child's needs and academic abilities.This way, you can work on maintaining that knowledge and those skills, and develop independence with what they are comfortable with, rather than pushing them into an area of frustration for both of you!”

McDonald also said that a key consideration in this period is accessibility.

“How can you help your child to access what they need? Technology is really amazing here, so don't be afraid of using all those assistive technologies such as changing font size and background, text-to-speech and voice recognition software. This is available on every technology platform, including your phone,” she said.

CLBLF uses the Lindamood-Bell programme for reading and comprehension. It has worked with 70 schools in 11 parishes and has trained 146 teachers, with 130 actively working in the programme.

The Foundtaion has prepared the following tips to help parents home-school children with special needs:

1. Schedule! Schedule

Prepare a schedule that your child can see. It is important for them to understand that school is continuing from home and they are not on holiday. Include sessions of no more than 15-20 minutes on any given task. Use pictures and visuals where you can, build in breaks and try your best to stick to the plan. A timer is really important to use because often, kids, especially those with ASD, can resist moving on from tasks they enjoy or breaks. A timer helps to neutralise this, and throws the conflict onto an inanimate object so to speak. And don't be too hung up on sticking to the schedule because there are going to be challenges that derail you. Know that that's okay.

2. Be Prepared for Behaviour Change

This is a stressful time for everyone, as children are feeling anxious and worried. Try to be understanding and patient. Use the daily schedule as a task chart and have the children tick off when done. Make following the chart into a game between parents and child/children. Also try things like breathing exercises, calming movement breaks and methodical (step-by-step) problem-solving strategies. And celebrate the wins! Not just for school work, but any on-task behaviour such as staying seated when asked, creating art, following directions or making a recipe. High fives, praises and a five-minute 'break party' will keep up the positive energy. Giving your child control over breaks is extra important for special needs kids as well, gives them some control and increases motivation.

3. Read to your child/children and make reading interactive

After a few paragraphs, stop and have them tell you what happened in the story. Have them describe things, sounds, smells, characters, how they look, what they are wearing, etc. Use audiobooks if you are not able to do the reading yourself and ensure that you pause the audiobook to encourage the discussion.

4. Use movies, TV shows, games and household activities as learning moments

After watching a movie or TV show, have your child retell the story or encourage them to act out the scenes. Have them write down a summary/review of the film or show. Introduce activities such as spelling unknown words, or writing alternate movie titles. Playing board games can teach the children about waiting their turn and following directions. When giving directions for household chores, check that they've created a mental picture of what to do. Don't forget to celebrate successes with folding laundry or putting away dishes or watering plants in the garden.

5. Create a Comfortable Learning Space

How do they like studying? Alone or with other people? Get them comfortable, but also focused and alert. Gather all school materials in one spot and gather what you will need in terms of technology, including software to access school work or teleconferencing apps like Zoom. Most are free and for any paid ones, it's worth checking in with schools as most software companies are giving out free licences during the COVID-19 pandemic. You may use digital modifications where you can, such as speech recognition software, changing the font size. These can be found in your device settings under accessibility.

Make sure to turn off the television and other devices when they are not being used and switch off notifications when they are being used to avoid distractions. Move away from the learning space during breaks but keep completing activities in the same place each day so that things become more predictable.

McDonald added: “Goal setting is also important but parents should ensure that those goals are not strictly based on academic success. Small, achievable goals should also be included that help special needs children develop confidence and independence. Applying these tips can ease the stress that is usually generated in homeschooling situations”.

The CLBLF lead consultant shared a list of available online resources for additional help. They are:

SoundingBoard - a free app designed for children who are unable to speak (or who have limited speech) to help them communicate.

LetterSchool promotes early literacy and numeracy skills by guiding children to tap, touch, and trace colourful animations, developing letter formation, letter sounds and names, spelling, counting, and other preschool and primary skills.

Tales2Go, an audiobook library with a huge collection of stories and books for all ages with excellent narrators

Epic! is an e-library with more than 20,000 high-quality children's books and educational videos that's offering free access to teachers at the moment – they can connect you

Audible, Amazon's audiobook app which is making all children's stories free at the moment

Vizzle, an app for parents of children with autism and other special needs, founded by a team with education and special needs backgrounds in collaboration with experts.

The OT Toolbox, which has at home occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy resources designed to build skills in children through movement and play. You may find free phonics and dyslexia printable items for learning to read, printable board games, activities and more for phonics and reading, all using evidence-based methods. They can also be customised to any student's needs including creating flashcards for other subjects.

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