Online classes for students with special needs can be especially difficult. Here’s how to help them thrive during remote learning.
It’s no secret that this past year has been a challenge for children of all ages as in-person schools shut down and remote learning became the norm. For students with special needs, the transition to online classes has been especially difficult. After all, for these children, school is not just a place where they learn math and reading. They also receive accommodations, services, and therapies that help them thrive academically, emotionally, and socially.
But as COVID-19 numbers rise again, the chance that many of us will be switching to remote learning (if you haven’t already) becomes more of a possibility.
“In the age of online learning, it’s essential for parents of kids with special needs to remember that their kids will need even more support and flexibility than usual,” says Ronit Levy, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and the author of How to Educate Your Kid During a Crisis: Practical Tips and Guidance to Educate Them and Stay Sane. “Our kids and teens with special needs have always needed more time, support, and understanding to make it through transitions and difficult times. Online learning during COVID has made that a hundred times truer.”
10 Ways to Help Kids Thrive in Online Classes for Special Needs Students
We asked some professionals for their best tips on how to set up your child for remote learning success. Read on for their suggestions.
Set up a learning space
Kristine Loccisano, the behavior skills training coordinator at Brookville Center for Children’ Services on Long Island, suggests setting up a room or space in your home that will be solely used for online classes for your child with special needs. While it doesn’t need to be a large space—in fact, Loccisano says a smaller area might be better—it shouldn’t be associated with other activities. So try to avoid your child’s bedroom, play area, or the family’s dining area.
Make sure the space is free of anything that will lure your child’s attention away from learning, such as the family pet, the television, toys, and music, explains Jann Fujimoto, a speech-language pathologist and owner of SpeechWorks.
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Stay on schedule.
It’s no secret that kids thrive in stability, which they get each day at school. With that in mind, Loccisano recommends trying to keep your child’s schedule as similar to the one they had when they attended school in-person—and make sure your child gets dressed for “school” in order to keep the same expectations in place.
Perhaps your child used an exercise ball to sit on in class, a grip to help with holding the pencil, or a fidget to help focus. “If you don’t have those at home, check with the classroom teacher to see if the items could be sent home to assist with learning at home,” Fujimoto suggests.
Incorporate tangible materials
If possible, ask the teacher or therapist to provide materials that can be used during the remote session. It may be difficult for your child with special needs to attend to the screen and they may be more successful if there are tangible materials to use in conjunction with a lesson.
Special needs students may need frequent reminders when at school, and parents can easily give those reminders to stay on task, according to Jessica Garza, founder of The Primary Parade. “If a parent isn’t able to sit with their child throughout the virtual school day, they could provide visual aids (signs) that can be placed near their work space to remind their child to stay on task or what they should be doing next,” she adds.
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Take frequent breaks.
A special needs student might need more frequent breaks throughout the day, so give them a chance to get up and stretch or visit the bathroom.
Use a timer.
An online visual timer, such as thetimetimer.com, can show the student how much time they have left in the learning session, says Susan Esco, a speech pathologist at AAC Solutions & Rehab Services.
Keep communication open
Parents should meet with teachers (online or in person) as often as they feel is necessary, Garza notes. Be open and honest about what is working and what is not—and remember that parents and teachers should be partners in the student’s learning.
Although remote learning can be frustrating, your child will respond better if you appear to be confident and comfortable. Do not expect perfection and be proud of the small accomplishments that you and your child make.
Linda DiProperzio has written extensively on parenting issues for Parents, American Baby, Parenting, and Family Circle, among others. She lives in New York with her husband and two sons.
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