4 Ways to Support Special Education Students At Home
Students with special needs are a highly diverse group. Around 14% of students enrolled in public schools in the U.S. receive special education services. The term “special education” refers to a highly diverse group of students of varying ages, interests, abilities, and disabilities. For special education teachers, federal law mandates that a unique plan be developed for each student aligning to their Individual Education Plan (IEP), which goes far beyond creating a single lesson plan for the entire class.
Many teachers—and parents— are concerned that the services students receive at school will not be able to be carried out at home, especially for those students who need behavioral therapy or gross motor remediation. There is also the question of how much and how closely parents and guardians will be able to adhere to specific plans, since many special education students rely on some degree of socialized coaching.
Our new reality of distance and blended learning was born from necessity and can be difficult to adjust to. Here are four ways to support special education students and their families at home, so that we can all make the best of our current situation.
Help families identify a daily routine that works for them and their students.
All students—no matter their grade level or abilities—appreciate knowing what to expect. Routines make children feel safe, and students are more likely to take risks and explore in a safe environment. When it comes to working with students who need extra support, devising a routine benefits everyone involved. Here are a few things to consider when identifying a routine for special education students at home:
- Who can provide support and when?
- This does not have to be a rigid schedule, but should establish a predictable rhythm for the course of each day.
- Encourage and allow time for independent activities if other family members are also working from home or doing household chores. Avoid “busy work”, but consider watching educational videos, which can be beneficial in moderation.
Work with families to develop strategies that connect IEP goals to activities.
According to federal regulations, schools have more flexibility in meeting IEP objectives during a pandemic and should work to the best of their ability to provide all of the services they can, realizing that these services may not be the same as they were in school.
- Design simple systems to track progress towards each goal, like this goal activity matrix.
- Consider asking parents to record students doing an activity or make a list of 2-3 IEP goal-oriented successes throughout the day. This will give your students and parents something to discuss during your regularly scheduled connections with you.
- Offer strategies for parents to meet sensory and movement needs for those students who require them in their IEP. Parents can find items around the house like colored playdough, sand, or bubble wrap when students need to release energy. Writing and drawing in shaving cream can relieve tension, while playing a game like Jenga can help students focus.
Invest direct support to family members.
For many students, they do not have trained teachers at home. These parents, guardians, and caregivers need additional support in order to facilitate learning and adherence to their student’s IEP. In order to help them, try to:
- Connect with them on a regular basis, even if just to check in or adjust learning plans. This can be via email, video conferencing, text messaging, or your learning management system (LMS).
- Offer as many online resources as possible, especially those related to communication and literacy.
- Remember to use accessible language and avoid jargon. Clear communication is essential. Keep in mind that some families may have language barriers, so have a plan in place for interpretation or translation.
Make personal connections on a regular basis.
For students and parents, connecting with their teacher is more valuable than links to endless resources. Try to keep in contact using some of these strategies:
- Schedule short online meetings using Zoom or Google Hangouts. Students can share a story or favorite object (teachers can too!). For younger students, you can read and discuss a book or sing familiar songs together. Older students may enjoying reading together or simply having time to talk about what’s going on in their lives.
- Communicate daily via your LMS or email. Beyond assigning work and providing feedback, consider sharing a daily challenge or scavenger hunt. Share pictures of your home and family (let’s face it, our students don’t believe we exist outside of school). Post links to interesting news and current events and invite students to share their thoughts.
Ultimately, special education is a complex compilation of strategies and learning activities based on the individual needs of the student. While it may not look the same at home, by offering as much support as possible to students and families at home, we’re still preparing them for the future.