How to Support Children With Special Educational Needs at Home
Special Needs Children pose a unique challenge in the home education environment. Whether home-schooled from infancy or only temporarily due to circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic, Special Needs Children require a lot more personal attention and care during the learning process than children without additional needs. The difficulties they face differ on an individual basis. Some will struggle socially or mentally, others emotionally and physically. But whatever the specific needs of your child, the principles listed below will offer guidance on how to structure the home classroom.
Personal attention is key.
To support a Special Needs Child, you have to bear in mind that children with Special Educational Needs are often given classroom support in the form of extra attention, time and instruction during tasks. Some will have an SNA - a Special Needs Assistant - by their side throughout the school day to keep them on track with their individual work. While you probably won't be able to offer the same level of care as a Special Needs Assistant, what's most important is that you give your child the time and attention they're used to receiving from an SNA.
Take stock of your child's strengths and weaknesses and understand how this impacts their learning. Maybe their only issue is being difficult to motivate - or perhaps they just need more time on individual tasks than you would expect. Even if it means spending more time with your child than is convenient, the individual attention you offer is a crucial aspect of the Special Educational Needs learning process, and not one that can be ignored.
Make learning fun for your child.
Even though there are many supports available for Special Needs Children in the modern classroom, many will still feel alienated in accessing the regular curriculum. Whether that's because they feel they can't keep up with their peers or because they just don't enjoy the work, motivation and interest can be serious issues for Special Needs Children in the classroom. Unfortunately, many teachers fail to address this issue adequately, being unsure how to balance the special care needed for children with learning disabilities alongside that required by the rest of the class. Learning from home gives you a unique advantage in this regard. As long as you work within the confines of the curriculum, you're free to structure lessons any way you want to.
This can make a big difference in the learning process. Even something as simple as incorporating a child's interests into the lesson (e.g., using cars and race drivers in grammatical or mathematical problems if your child likes cars) can make them much more motivated to learn. Similarly, home presentations and written assignments on your child's interests are great ways to build their public speaking, research, and reading skills. Even if these topics aren't strictly educational, a lot can be learnt from the research process alone, and they'll be much more motivated to work on a topic that interests them than one pulled straight from a textbook.
Provide reasonable challenges, but remember to take it slow and steady.
In line with the last point, it's important to remember the most Special Needs Children are aware of the difficulties they face in the classroom. No matter how much care they're given (and sometimes because of this care), many struggle with poor self-esteem due to feeling inferior to other students, or perhaps even condescended to by teachers and staff.
Coping with this perception is a difficult task for any educator, but even moreso for a parent, whose emotional investment in the child is much greater. But even though a Special Needs Child might struggle with certain subjects more than their peers, most will take very quickly to topics of interest. That's why we recommend incorporating their favourite topics into the learning process as much as possible. Alongside their increased motivation will come increased performance. By taking advantage of this fact, you might not need to customise textbook activities at all for a Special Needs Student beyond breaking them into smaller chunks (halves or thirds) to build confidence.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.
If you know that a period of home learning for your child is imminent, make sure to ask their Special Needs Assistant (if they have one) or classroom teacher for advice on how you can best support them. After all, there's no better place to look for information than from someone who's paid to know it!
If your child's had the same SNA or teacher for any length of time, they'll probably be able to point you in the right direction regarding the help you need to provide. If your child hasn’t had that kind of aid before, you might just have to figure it out as you go. There are a wealth of online resources available to assist you in your teaching journey. For further information on this topic, you can refer to https://specialneedsparents.ie/ and consult some of the many websites they recommend.