Emily Lian, M.Ed
We’re in uncharted territory here - that’s what I keep telling myself as a curriculum writer, and that’s what I keep telling my teacher friends who are suddenly thrown into lesson planning for a virtual platform as well as my parent friends who have to help their children adjust. In the process of adapting lesson plans I’ve already written to online learning, I am quickly discovering that many “hands-on” activities that work so well in the classroom will NOT work virtually. This is especially challenging for students with special needs, whose plight has not been fully addressed in the new roll-out policies for online learning. Although the issue is on the table for discussion, the reality is you will play a more significant role than ever in your child’s education for the time being. In addition to the issues of equity that come with ensuring that students have access to the technology that will keep them connected, the ambiguity of these times persist.
I fully empathize with the additional hurdles that come with supporting a child with an IEP or extenuating challenges. Your child may need particular supports that are not conducive to a virtual environment; this means that much of their education may become your responsibility. A study conducted in 2014 discussed the need for differentiated accommodation in e-learning for students with special needs, and that’s what you will need to consider. There is no magic wand; no “one size fits all” model that can guarantee success. You know your child best; you are the expert who understands your child’s needs and preferences. That being said, here are some pieces of advice and resources that I hope you will find helpful.
1. Breathe. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
These are uncertain times for everyone. I’ve seen so many parents try and scramble to create picture-perfect, Pinterest-worthy homeschooling environments, and it’s not necessary. The stress of all of these changes are overwhelming, and we can all use a little grace and understanding. You are not a “bad” parent for just taking things one day at a time, or for making some compromises to accommodate your child. Surround yourself with a supportive community if you can, but don’t peer over the hedges and compare yourself to what might work for others.
2. Understand and leverage the supports your child is entitled to.
If your child has an IEP or is receiving special services, reach out and try to understand what this means while brick and mortar schools are closed. What kind of supports are your child still entitled to? Whether it’s a daily or weekly check-in with his or her teacher or additional resources for you as the parent, speak up, and don’t be afraid to advocate for your child’s needs. Don’t allow your child to fall through the cracks! You can look for parent training and resources that are specific for your state here, through the Center for Parent Information & Resources.
3. General rules of thumb
A study conducted by Liu et al. (2010) found high correlating factors associated with parental involvement in their child’s learning: parental encouragement, modeling, reinforcement, and parental instruction. The following rules of thumb were condensed and adapted from research put forth by Michigan Virtual University. Keep in mind that your child’s needs may be specific, and this is not an exhaustive list of recommendations.
- Create a schedule and stick to a routine. Fostering a predictable environment will be your greatest ally in keeping your child on track.
- Provide your child with different modes to express himself or herself, and present materials as such, too. Do they need visual aids or pictures? Do they need to see instructions written out, rather than spoken? Would it be more helpful if they watched a video?
- Be very specific in your instructions. Make your expectations for an assignment clear.
- Break activities down into smaller or shorter segments, especially if your child is having trouble with focusing. This can help reduce stress or anxiety.
- Give your child self-monitoring resources, such as checklists, rubrics, or planning guides, to scaffold their progress visually. See the “Practical Resources” section below for an example.
- Become familiar with assistive technology if your child requires it.
- Scaffold your child’s learning by modeling tasks for them to follow along, stopping and asking questions to check for understanding, and building upon prior knowledge.
- Understand that non-academic skills (e.g., perseverance, self-control, organization, time management) are just as crucial as any academically-focused learning objective.
4. Talk to your child about COVID-19
One of the most confusing things is not understanding why something is happening. Take the time to talk to your child about what’s going on, even if you don’t know all of the answers to their questions. Below are a few great resources for doing this. I am not affiliated with any of these companies.
- The Child Mind Institute recommends taking cues from your child, dealing with your own anxiety, being reassuring, focusing on what you’re doing to stay safe, sticking to a routine, and keeping the conversation ongoing.
- PBS offers similar recommendations, and adds the importance of giving children power and responsibility, letting them know what to expect, empathizing with them, modeling the behavior we want to see, and adjusting screen time limits.
- The National Association of School Psychologists recommends we explain what social distancing means, identify projects that might help others, correct misinformation, and stay up-to-date with facts. Keep explanations age-appropriate, stay connected to school, know the symptoms of COVID-19, model basic hygiene and healthy lifestyle practices, and be aware of your children’s mental health.
5. Practical resources
The following list contains practical educational resources that may be helpful to you on this journey. Abilitee Adaptive Wear and I are not affiliated with any of these companies.
- Home Educator provides specific resources, including recordkeeping, using IEPs, and guides to different types of curriculum.
- TODAY parenting team: 12 Online Resources for Parents of Children with Special Needs
- Breezy Special Ed offers some practical, ready-to-use materials (including a homework choice board).
- Special Education Guide provides resources that are organized by specific special needs.
- Time 4 Learning provides resources for homeschooling children with special needs (also categorized).
- Green Child Magazine offers homeschooling tips for parents of children with special needs.
- National PTA: Special Education Toolkit for Families
Bjekiü, D., Obradoviü, S., Vuþetiü, M. &Bojoviü, M. (2014). E-teacher in inclusive e-education for students with specific learning disabilities. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 128(2014), 128-133.
Deschaine, M. (2018). Supporting students with disabilities in k-12 online and blended learning. Lansing, MI: Michigan Virtual University. Retrieved from https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/supporting-students-with-disabilities-in-k-12-online-and-blended-learning/
Liu, F., Black, E., Algina, J., Cavanaugh, C., & Dawson, K. (2010). The validation of one parental involvement measurement in virtual schooling. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 9(2), 105–132.
Mitchell, C. (2020, March 19). How will schools provide special education during the coronavirus crisis. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/19/are-we-going-to-get-ourselves-in.html
Quinton, S. (2020, March 24). The switch to remote learning could leave students with disabilities behind. PBS News Hour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/the-switch-to-remote-learning-could-leave-students-with-disabilities-behind