Distance Learning & Your Family
Traditional education is not effective for all students. This can be particularly true for students with special needs. Distance learning is an option that offer students with special needs a different method of instruction. However, when considering the cons of distance learning, often parents are concerned with their children's ability to keep up with grade-level academic expectations, as well as with the impact of remote learning on their children's mental health. Students are experiencing the challenges of learning independently and the emotional impact of significantly decreased opportunities for social interaction. How can parents help their children make the most of remote learning? Arranging and maintaining a positive work environment, establishing a predictable routine, encouraging breaks, and providing motivation are some ways parents can encourage their at-home learners.
Distance Education for Students with Special Needs
For students with special needs, remote learning can introduce additional challenges. Students are separated from their accustomed learning environment, tools, routines, supports, and teachers. The available learning resources used in remote instruction may not match a child's instructional needs, resulting in frustration and confusion. A student's special education program is created for a school environment, so duplicating it at home is difficult. What can parents do to help?
Addressing Your Child's Special Needs
Every child with special needs is different and will experience remote learning differently. However, there are a few general tips that should be helpful for families working to meet a variety of special needs.
Communicating with Your Child's School
Establish communication with your child's teacher. Choose a time and method for weekly communication, then determine the best way to ask extra questions that may arise mid-week. Find out what other professionals regularly provide service to your child (such as a special education teacher or speech therapist) and talk to them about ways to support your child's remote learning.
Using the IEP to Guide Remote Learning
If your child has a diagnosed disability, they likely have an individualized education program (IEP). There are two key elements of your child's IEP that you should examine to help you with remote learning. Be sure to get input from the school, as they are used to working on these areas.
- Goals and Objectives - The IEP team has determined what skills and understanding your child needs to develop to make progress in their grade-level curriculum. Look at your child's goals. Ask:
- Is the instruction from the school addressing my child's IEP goals?
- What resources and activities can my child use to directly address the IEP goals?
- Accommodations - Every IEP contains a list of accommodations that help the student fully access and participate in the general curriculum. Accommodations might address the presentation of information, the learning environment, the way student responds to questions and demonstrates knowledge, or tools used to facilitate learning. Find out:
- What are the accommodations listed on your child's IEP?
- What is the purpose and setting for each accommodation? For example, an accommodation might be specifically for use during writing or during math.
- Can your child use the accommodation in your home the same way the accommodation is used at school?
- If not, how can you modify the accommodation to make sense in your home environment?
Setting & Managing Expectations
As your child works on remote learning assignments, consider the expectations you have for their behavior and learning.
- Learning expectations: Help your child determine the goal of each assignment - what skill or content is the child supposed to know as a result of the task? You may be able to use a different learning tool, such as an online resource or academic game, to teach your child the same content. Your child may also need shortened assignments or an alternative way to show their knowledge.
- Behavioral expectations: Set up a clear schedule for remote learning that includes regular breaks. This can ease the frustration of difficult learning tasks. Let your child know your expectations for their learning behavior and reinforce positive behavior. Identify ways to diffuse your child's stress (and yours), such as calming music, a walk, or a favorite toy. And remember, this is a difficult time, so be flexible!
Setting A Plan of Action
As you do your best to guide your child with special needs through the remote learning process, don't hesitate to consult available special needs resources to give you more ideas. Connect with other parents who are going through the same process. Then know that you and your child are doing your best to learn in these unusual times.