Adapting to online learning instead of going to school can be challenging for students, especially for children with special needs or learning difficulties. With 1.2 million school pupils in England having Special Educational Needs, in a typical classroom setting they’ll often receive instant feedback as well as specialist support teaching them how to focus, problem solve and regulate their emotions and behaviour. However, with classes taking place virtually and no extra support, it’s easy for these students to have trouble working independently and find it hard to stay motivated. To help make this difficult time a little easier, we’ve found some simple, yet useful ways parents can support their special needs child and help them excel when it comes to learning online.
Have A Set Routine
Change is difficult for special needs children, meaning they’ll respond well to structure and routine. Start by creating a distance learning routine, based roughly from their original school timetable. This way they’ll be familiar with the structure of the learning day and will know what to expect. This might mean having breaks and lunch at the same time they did at school or having the same subjects in a day - try (if you can) to stick to it. Maybe your child looked forward to art class on a Friday morning - so schedule in art for a Friday morning! Finally, make their new routine visual, whether it’s on a whiteboard or a printout stuck up on the wall in their homeschool space, it’s much easier for special needs children to adapt if they know what’s next.
Regular Communication With Your Child’s Teachers
Even though you know your child the best, their teachers will have lots of information regarding their learning, what topics they enjoy the most and the least, as well as teaching techniques they respond to best. During this new period of distance learning, we recommend keeping up regular communication with their teachers, asking if they have ideas about how to adapt the online work to help your special needs child be more engaged and focused. They will also be able to give you feedback on other ways you can make learning at home better suited to your child’s learning process.
Although it is best to stick to your child’s school schedule during the day, it is also essential to be flexible with the learning material and to take regular breaks. Many students with special needs will require specialised support, and may need additional help from you to break school work tasks down into more manageable chunks as well as creating coherent and colourful visual aids to assist with their learning. Doing this may mean you take extra time to complete a lesson online or a few extra days to understand a new concept. However, this flexibility will make sure your child doesn’t get overwhelmed and learns at the pace that works best for them.
Organise Smaller Zoom Sessions
Taking part in online Zoom classes with up to 30 other kids can be very challenging for special needs children. As well as not getting any ‘real time’ extra instruction or encouragement, they’re also not getting the additional support to complete tasks that they may not be able to do in a large group or independently. Instead, it’s worth trying to organise smaller Zoom learning sessions with other parents or check to see if your school is offering any one-on-one or smaller virtual classes for kids with special needs. Even a small change such as a smaller virtual class will likely make a difference with their engagement and focus levels.
Focus On Your Child’s Interests
Children with special needs will often have specific areas of interest that can be used to help them engage them with online learning. In fact, there are so many subjects that can be learned through interests such as music, art, animals, space, sports, nature and more. Use these as jump off opportunities for self-directed learning and a way to help your child stay focused. Whether it’s watching an online zoo camera, having a virtual museum tour or reading an interesting website about space, get creative and find exciting resources for them to enjoy!