If you're working with a special needs child at home, having some remote learning strategies for special education will help you both feel more successful. From staying on track to managing expectations, these tips will come in handy for a variety of special needs.
Look First to the IEP or 504 Plan
To receive special education services, a child should have an IEP (individualized education plan) or 504 plan in place. You can access your child's IEP or 504 plan by calling your school. These documents list the specific challenges the child is facing and the accommodations the school will make to help the child learn. Accommodations can range from extra time on tests to a one-on-one educational aide. Then think about how you can best replicate these accommodations in the home environment.
Consider Ways to Remove Barriers
Kids receive special education services for everything from autism to visual impairment. Some may struggle to focus due to challenges like ADHD. Others may have intellectual disabilities that make learning new information more difficult. Remote learning impacts these different challenges in a variety of unique ways. As you develop a strategy to help, think about these questions:
- How has the way information is presented changed for your child? Does this match how your child learns? Consider how you can make these line up.
- How has the learning environment changed, and how will this impact your child's ability to focus? Are there distractions you can remove?
- How will your child demonstrate he or she understands the material? Can you work with the teacher to find creative ways your child can easily demonstrate understanding?
Use Assistive Technology Already in Your Device
Although there are many challenges in implementing a special education remote learning plan, one advantage to using devices is that they often include assistive technology that can benefit kids with special education needs, such as learning disabilities. Look into the following in-device accommodations that can help:
- Some apps can read text out loud, which is a huge help for kids struggling to read.
- Other apps will allow students to do assignments in speech-to-text, eliminating the need to type or write by hand.
- Many videos allow you to add close captioning to help hearing-impaired learners understand the material.
Try a Visual Timer
If your child struggles to stay on task or has a hard time with transitions from one activity to another, a visual timer can be a big help. Use a device like Time Timer to offer visual clues about how much longer an activity will continue. You can also use a regular egg timer or an online timer like Online Stopwatch. For kids who get discouraged with certain subjects, knowing how much longer the topic will be happening can help with morale. Others, who struggle changing from one subject to another, will know when the change is coming.
Make a Task Choice Board
For kids who struggle with communication or need a flexible schedule, you can make a task choice board out of the day's activities. Kids can point to the task they want to do next. You can use a program like Board Maker to create a choice board, or you can use this simple process:
- Draw a grid on a piece of paper, leaving as many squares as you need for the choices.
- Draw or paste a picture of each activity in each square of the grid.
- Have the choice board handy in your remote learning space.
Keep a Consistent Schedule
Routine can be a big help for all kids, and this is especially true for kids struggling with various aspects of distance learning. Take some time to think about when your child learns best. If he or she takes medication to focus, keep this in mind. Then build a simple homeschool schedule around the times it's easiest for your child to handle school activities. Don't forget to build in breaks.
Create a Reward Chart
Help keep your student motivated by using a printable reward chart. Be sure to choose a clear end goal, such as a small toy, a treat, or a fun experience. Then be clear about the expectations your child will need to meet in order to receive the reward. The printable reward chart will help him or her stay focused and will serve as a visual reminder to stay on task.
Use Online Resources to Help
You can also use online resources and apps to help. Consider some of these great options:
- Vizzle by Adaptive Technology Resources - Developed with special education teachers, speech pathologists, and parents in mind, this tool helps present information in a visual format that is easier for many kids with special needs. It also helps track IEP goal progress and has a game-like format kids will love.
- Better Kids - This program focuses on social and emotional well-being of younger learners, including those with special needs. It's a great option if your child is struggling with anxiety or other emotional challenges.
- Art of Special Needs Parenting - This crash course includes specifics for putting together a learning environment that will help special needs kids succeed with distance learning.
- Described and Captioned Media Program - This program has thousands of captioned videos on demand for free, allowing hearing-impaired learners to watch these programs at home.
Keep Up Communication With Case Managers
Your child's case manager should be working with you to transition your child to distance learning. Your case manager understands your child, his or her special challenges, and any goals or accommodations. Talk to the case manager about specific ways you can help your child learn from home.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
One of the most important tips for parents of special needs children isn't specific to distance learning or any other situation; it's simply always true. You are doing your best, and sometimes, it may not be perfect. You'll keep trying. Some days are hard, and distance learning can make those days harder. Cut yourself some slack and know that you know your child better than anyone and always have your child's best interest at heart.