Supporting your child with special needs requires a unique brand of devotion. Parents of children with special needs are their child’s mentor, advocate and cheerleader. They are also jugglers, balancing academics with their child’s medical, social and emotional needs. Fortunately, online learning provides the flexibility that equips families to manage their responsibilities and celebrate the joys of raising a child with special needs. How can parents facilitate a child’s learning? They can be full-fledged partners in their child’s amazing journey.
How to Support Your Child With Special Needs
Parents of children with special needs can master their mentoring roles when they have toolboxes stocked with practical techniques. Educators and parents offer these tips for playing a vital role in supporting students with special needs.
- Engage with their learning and teachers: Your child’s teacher is essential to daily academic progress, but the teacher can’t do it alone. From the development of your child’s individualized education program to the daily delivery of lessons, parents play a vital role. You know your child’s capabilities and needs. Although teachers of kids with special needs are highly trained in maximizing learning opportunities, they can’t be there 24/7. Regular communications between teachers and parents ensure that children with special needs spend their days amid a consistent atmosphere and expectations, whether the time is being devoted to school or home life. Tell the teacher what’s happening at home that might affect your child’s school day. Ask why the teacher is taking a certain approach, and suggest adaptations likelier to get your child’s attention. Ask the teacher how you can support your child’s learning even when school isn’t in session.
- Encourage questions: Every day, your child with special needs is challenged with unraveling a confusing jumble of academic demands and social expectations in a world that’s not shaped to their needs. Help them navigate by encouraging them to ask questions and seek out examples of what the teacher is talking about. And because questions don’t come naturally to everyone, teach your child to be a journalist who asks “who, what, when, where, why, and how.” For instance, if you say, “We’re going to the grocery store,” your child can learn to ask who “we” are, what you’re buying and why, when you’re going, where this grocery store is located, and how you’re getting there.
- Help them get organized: Just when a learning breakthrough is about to happen, the search for a pencil shouldn’t disrupt the moment. An organized, decluttered workspace helps children collect their thoughts and concentrate on schoolwork, while it minimizes parental stress. Enlist your child for ideas on creating an enticing learning space. Make a place within reach for everything that might be needed during the school day — paper, pens and pencils, calculator, folders, books. Personalize it with a favorite family photo or inspirational poster. Help your child take a few minutes every day to straighten up and make sure that everything is where it’s supposed to be. As your child grows, let them adapt the space to their needs, keeping in mind the goal of having all the right supplies at hand whenever they’re needed.
- Create a schedule that works for them: Structure matters to all children, and it’s especially important for preventing distractions and stress in the lives of kids with special needs. Start with a daily routine that gives your child the security of knowing what to expect — and what’s expected of them — at each part of the day. Make sure it includes such details as a morning routine that starts the day smoothly, time for activity and play, and quiet time before bed to ensure a restful night’s sleep. Customize the schedule to your child’s unique needs. Perhaps they need frequent breaks to stay focused, or they need time every day to take their medications. Build in moments that inspire learning by giving your child the chance to dive into the subject that fascinates them the most. Activities for children with special needs can be as fun as exploring bugs in the backyard or reading up on the latest superhero in the Marvel universe.
- Minimize distractions: The flexibility and personalized education of online learning are a blessing to families of children with special needs. However, when the school day comes into the home, it’s up to families to put a priority on learning at the appropriate times. Children with special needs can be especially prone to distractions that undermine their schoolwork. When it’s time for class or homework, be sure that the learning space is free from distractions. Keep electronic devices silent and out of reach. Establish rules against letting in the dog. Tell siblings not to interfere unless they’re helping with schoolwork. Prepare lunch in advance to keep pots and pans from clanging in the kitchen. Save mowing the lawn for non-school hours.
- Keep tabs on special education news: Your child’s education is impacted by a whirlwind of political, legislative and medical happenings. Maybe a new policy increases the supports your local school district must provide, or proposed state budget cuts threaten the services on which your child relies. Perhaps a new medication is emerging that treats your child’s condition. Support groups, associations and online sites offer news on the latest in special education. Knowing what’s coming can help you prepare and adjust your child’s learning plan — or even speak out for or against proposed changes that directly affect your child.
- Use electronic devices wisely: Cellphones, iPads, and tablets have become indispensable in the lives of many children with special needs, and for good reason. Apps and programs tailored to their specific needs help their minds expand and grow. However, overreliance on electronic devices has its dangers. About two hours a day of screen time is considered acceptable. Any more than that can cause stress, lead to poor sleep and cut into time that should be spent on physical activity that keeps your child healthy.
- Create and celebrate wins: Success breeds success. When your child with special needs has a breakthrough or accomplishment, that good feeling inspires them to try for more. Help your child set achievable goals — little ones for daily wins and step-by-step plans for the long-term vision. Celebrate those wins to help build your child’s confidence and willingness to stretch beyond their comfort zone. The reward doesn’t have to be tangible every time. A word of praise, a sticker or a big hug can send the message that you’re proud and know that your child can accomplish anything.
- Keep realistic expectations: For kids with special needs, academic and personal success is measured in increments. You can always set goals for your child to strive toward, but unrealistic expectations can cause discouragement and dampen enthusiasm. Encourage your child to try new things, but always within the realm of their capabilities. Break down expectations into small, manageable tasks, and retrench when it’s clear your child is nearing frustration. Remember, too, that a diagnosis doesn’t define your child, whose behavior won’t necessarily fall into patterns described by a medical journal. You know your child better than anyone else, so tailor your expectations to their capabilities.
- Take care of yourself: Parents of children with special needs quite possibly could be the most selfless people on the planet, but if their health and spirits fail, their children suffer the consequences. Take time for yourself every day to maintain your physical and emotional health. Eat healthy foods and get regular activity. Don’t overlook the importance of a good night’s sleep. Take moments to meditate or write in a journal. Join a support group to share your challenges and triumphs with parents who understand your family. It’s just like the emergency instructions that flight attendants issue about putting on your own oxygen mask first. A healthy you is there for your child.
How CCA Helps Children With Special Needs Succeed
Every child with special needs is a unique individual. Cookie-cutter approaches to education fail to address their holistic needs for academic and personal growth and enrichment. That’s why CCA leverages the power and advantages of online learning for customized education that also delivers flexibility and socialization for whole families.
CCA’s special education program serves children in all grades. Many special-needs learners transfer to CCA when their previous schools don’t meet their needs or fail to work with families to ensure a safe, enriching learning experience. Here’s what makes CCA different:
- Online special education delivered through customized strategies and interventions. Much of it can be experienced in the safety and comfort of the child’s home.
- Teachers attuned to the needs of students and receptive to the suggestions of parents. CCA teachers are in constant communication, getting to know their students and families better than they would have in brick-and-mortar schools. Personalized learning means that teachers apply skill-based lessons to zero in on and conquer the student’s stumbling blocks. CCA’s special education teachers are state-certified by Pennsylvania in special education.
- Direct parental oversight of children’s daily lessons. Parents can ask questions, help their child navigate new concepts and collaborate with the teacher on effective strategies. They don’t have to worry about what and how their child is being taught.
- Pacing of online courses determined by the student and family. While traditional IEPs at brick-and-mortar schools often call for extra time that allows children to comprehend their lessons, CCA’s online learning has that concept baked into every day. Children can also rewatch recordings of their lessons as they reflect on and grasp new concepts.
- IEPs developed from a wide range of resources and written to include specially designed instruction. These fully customized learning plans incorporate every available resource as they address the student’s learning strengths and needs, interests and career dreams. At CCA, IEPs are living documents, used to guide the educational plan, and frequently revised to keep pace with the child’s changing needs.
- Strong supports for parents, who are called “learning coaches.” These learning coaches work alongside their children — especially younger children or those who need regular guidance — to motivate and monitor.
- Speech, occupational and physical therapy resources. Services may be provided virtually or in the home or community, depending on the child’s needs and drawing from the full array of local services available.
- Assistive technology. CCA has long pioneered and perfected the use of cutting-edge technology to advance the education of children with special needs. All students receive a laptop tailored to their individual learning needs. At CCA, IEPs could include a variety of assistive technologies that help students learn to their full potential. Carefully curated selections in programs help children with special needs build their skills in expression, turning spoken ideas into written words, reading comprehension and vocabulary. With CCA’s assistive technologies, children with special needs find the means to read, write and learn to their fullest abilities.
Children with special needs have wondrous gifts to share, and it takes a special kind of parent to nurture their talents and aspirations. When your child is enrolled in the right school with the right teachers, they will flourish and be happy. Contact CCA to learn how CCA can help children with special needs through a personalized education.