Back to school season is almost always a stressful time for all parties. There is much preparation to do and make sure of before your child is ready for school. With the pandemic, we had to adapt to learning at home through various models, as around 7.1 million children receiving special education services in American schools had to adapt to distance and hybrid learning.
Educating a child at home is already a challenge. It is particularly challenging and can be overwhelming for parents of children with special needs. These parents and caregivers have to go through this overwhelming process without the support the child receives in a school setting at a typical time.
Since we have kind of been through this the last year, you may feel like you have a pretty good idea on what to do but still want to brush up on your knowledge, or maybe, this is your first time tackling educating your special needs child at home.
We have gathered here some tips and tricks to consider when embarking on this journey with your little one.
You are not alone
The first thing to do is to understand that this is still a pretty new concept to everyone. Not just the parents and the kids, but to professionals with whom your child interacts, such as the teachers and clinicians. It is perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed with stress. So take a deep breath and know that you are not alone. Get help wherever you can. If you have another caregiver at home, you can take turns. Ask for help from your family members or friends that you trust to help work with your child. If you are on your own at home to support your child, make sure to take breaks now and then and take care of yourself. It is essential to know that you are doing the best you can, and if you are not okay, then you would not be able to help your child.
Get yourself situated for the upcoming semester
Your child is entitled to special education support and the systems in place that will help them be successful in their academic life. If you are new to the process or if you have not done it already, learn and get familiar with the ins and outs of your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), and the goals and objectives specified in it. Consult your child’s teacher and other professionals they interact with if you have any questions regarding any of the processes. You can also talk to your child’s therapists and clinicians if you feel like this plan needs updating.
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Help your child be in control
Back to school is already a stressful time for children. But in these unusual times, the stress levels of your child may increase. Sometimes, a sense of control may help alleviate some of this stress. During the day, you may try to give your child as much control over some things as possible. You can ask them to choose what to eat, which activity to do, what hobby to try next and so on. It is best to let them be as creative as possible. They can create their own games and plays. This will help them get a sense of control which would, in turn, reduce their stress.
Keep track of your child’s focus
If your child is able to attend distance learning through Zoom or other platforms, there are a couple of things to bear in mind to keep an eye on them. Special needs children struggle with focus. Paying attention for a long period of time is difficult even without any neurodiversity. Having to maintain eye contact or avoiding distractions is a really big strain on attention. On top of that, special needs children need real-time feedback, and this could be difficult virtually.
If you feel like your child is having a difficult time with their attention, there are a couple of things to try. You can sit with them during these virtual calls. If you can’t do that, check in with them often and provide words of encouragement when you catch them being focused. Monitor them during the day and ask the teacher about their performance so that you can give positive reinforcement after. Another point to make is to keep track of the time they can pay attention, and then let the school know about this time to figure out a teaching plan.
Get in the nitty-gritty
An established structure is important for special needs children. But the times we are living in at the moment make it a bit difficult as everything is changing rapidly and there are things we don’t have control over. This leads to an increase in anxiety and stress, which is something special needs children and their parents and caregivers deal with on a daily basis. This increased stress may cause some behavioral outbursts for your child. Remember that these behaviors are usually resulting from something, so try to figure out the root cause first. They may find something difficult to cope with, and this could be the reason for a meltdown. Try to communicate more often. A study shows that your relationship with your child actually protects them from stress, so try to be empathetic and understand your child’s feelings first, and then figure out a plan to alleviate or eliminate the stress.
Set realistic learning expectations and goals. The first thing to do is to figure out what your child can handle and what would be too much for them. Being realistic goes both for your child’s abilities to learn in a different setting and your abilities to be an at-home teacher. Discuss this with your child’s teacher to set out some goals and maybe even homework at home to figure out the best way to move forward with their studies.
Regardless of the style of virtual learning, know that you can support your child’s education and ensure their success. There are many resources available online to help you guide through these times smoothly, like Autism Society’s COVID-19 toolkit , and Otsimo blogs and products are there to help you out.
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