Tips for Learning at Home When Your Child Has Special Needs
Learning from home is challenging in and of itself. For families with children who are differently abled, even more unique challenges are often presented. Many parents of children with special needs or challenges have found themselves continuing distance learning this year. These circumstances present new tests of our families, routines, and support systems. (This can be frustrating, and that's okay!) Parents and caregivers, you are not alone. You’ve got this, and we're here to help you! We gathered a few pieces of advice from parents and teachers, to help those of you who feel like you're running on reserves.
Do you feel like you're in a carnival "fun house" you can't find your way out of? Often the best way through a unique situation is a unique solution. Be open to trying new strategies and techniques, even if they feel unusual or uncomfortable. Sometimes we need to try something new, even as we might be thinking, “My child would never try …”. Challenge yourself to try new strategies, and to reuse and recycle techniques you might have moved away from. Something you see success with one day may not work the next, and vice versa. Take a deep breath. Move on. Try something different. Reach out to other parents. There are also special needs groups on social media. Additionally, you can ask teachers or therapists for help and ideas.
Set a Schedule or Have a Routine
Routines help children build healthy habits, manage stress levels, encourage good mental health and healthy sleep patterns, and add consistency and security to your home. This helps kids feel ready to learn. Set a daily/weekly schedule, but be flexible if other things come up. Schedules allow your children to know what to expect. Sometimes just knowing what's next helps curb meltdowns. Work with your kids to set manageable goals and expectations. Visual schedules can be helpful, too. If possible, have your child build their daily routine with you. It's important to empower kids to make choices about their day and learning!
We are fortunate to have so many sensory products available! Let's be honest - fidgets are great for nearly all kids (and grown-ups, too). Have a basket of fidgets near your child's learning space to help keep them focused on learning. Some of our favorite fidgets are: Teenie Nee Doh, Simpl Dimpl Keychains, Ramen Noodlies, Flip'n'Go Reversible Octopopper Fidgets, and so many more. Tie an exercise band between the legs of a chair for fidgeting feet, or use an exercise ball instead of a chair. A weighted blanket or stuffed animal on a child’s lap can help keep them regulated as well. Have gum or chewy candy available to children who tend to chew on objects such as pencils.
Set a Time Limit
Setting a timer can help curb resistance to starting and stopping activities. Figure out the time frame that works best for your child in each subject or activity. Visual timers are wonderful because they provide a visual guide to children who may have issues understanding time.
Would you like to do reading or STEM first? Choices offer children a degree of control. Tidy their room in the morning or the evening? Milk or water to drink?
Winning and Losing
Playing games can be a great way to teach and use critical thinking skills, memory, pretend play, and academic concepts. How about rewarding hard work with a cooperative game? Cooperative board games allow everyone to work as a team, to achieve one or more goals. Cooperative games offer independent problem-solving, too, and can be found for all age ranges and abilities.
Take breaks! Include movement breaks in your learning routine. Movement breaks help break up the day, and refresh and re-energize tired brains and bodies. Set a timer for movement breaks. Have your child choose a song and dance to the song until it ends. Grown-ups, make sure you're moving, too! Movement builds neuro-pathways and interrupts negative thought patterns. Have them hop on a pogo stick for sensory input. It's okay to take breaks and have fun.
What tips can you share with us that have worked with your children?