Parents of children with special needs know the importance of collaboration when it comes to education. Regardless of whether their child has visual, auditory or other impairments, from the very beginning, parents will count on advice and care from professionals, to ensure their child has a fair, good and goal-oriented education. Disability is, by nature, very particular; degree of disability, its permanence and attitudes towards it will vary from case to case. Moreover, there is a host of highly specific information on learning strategies for particular disabilities and parents should always seek and follow tried-and-tested techniques. There are, however, general tips that can work to make a child feel enthused and passionate about education.
Parents of special needs children may find the following tips useful:
- Establish good rapport with your child’s Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO). They are there to ensure that the school works alongside you to meet the needs of your child and to organise any additional support your child may need.
- Learn all you can about your child’s condition and the main obstacles they may face when it comes to learning. Deaf and blind children, for instance, often cannot access much of the material which is such an important part of incidental learning. The latter is the kind of informal, unstructured learning which takes place by observing how others interact with the environment. These children will, therefore, often lack conceptual knowledge: the connection between an object and what it used for. If your child is blind, try to provide them with as much contextual information as possible. For instance, at bath time, tell them what is occurring: “this is a sponge, this is the soap; you are putting soap on the sponge to clean your skin”; if your child is deaf, introduce as much new vocabulary as you can in everyday situations through lipreading, sign, or whichever communication method you choose. With blind and deaf children in particular, good communication is vital to the learning process.
- Children with learning disabilities need very specific, tailored instruction. Children with learning disabilities can become frustrated with long texts and drawn-out lessons. Keep activities concise and provide instructions orally rather than in writing. Give them immediate feedback for tasks accomplished and make sure they get lots of praise for specific actions. Forego generic comments like “You read really well today” in favour of specific ones like, “Wow! ‘gigantic’ was a difficult word. There were two ‘g’ sounds and you read both really well” or “Dividing 10 by 2 is a really tricky problem; you did it fantastically. Congratulations!”
- If your child has a physical impairment, try to focus on intellectual challenges they can feel proud of accomplishing. Focus on problem solving skills, deductive reasoning and imaginative tasks rather than those requiring kinaesthetic skill. During learning times and in everyday situations, allow your child to express their frustration at not being able to perform certain tasks.
If your child has ADHD, there are a host of strategies to keep their mind on the ask at hand. These include:
- Asking a child to repeat instructions you have given them.
- Introducing active (kinaesthetic) tasks as well as reading and writing tasks.
- Giving immediate feedback and praise for tasks completed.
- Asking a child to take notes.
- Providing step-by-step instructions both orally and in writing.
- Giving a child breaks between tasks.
- Giving them ‘jobs’ which they must carry out well.
- Using technology they are interested in (e.g. a computer or iPad) to teach core skills.
- Using time targets for tasks.
- Using physical contact to increase the child’s focus.
- Breaking assignments up into smaller segments.
Children with Asperger Syndrome also require specific strategies from the very early stages. These include using simple, shorter commands (e.g. “John, pen”, instead of “John, pick up the pen; we’re going to do a little drawing”; or using symbols, pictures and objects, rather than long-winded sentences, to explain concepts. It is also vital to keep checking that your child is listening to and understanding what you are teaching them. Be patient and repeat what you have said if necessary. You will find a host of useful resources on the subject of education of children with autism here.
If your child has Dyslexia, start out with this useful handbook; not only does it explain the importance of explaining this condition with your child, it also provides practical teaching tips like teaching your child to self-correct her errors, monitor her reading and checking the validity of her chosen strategy. The British Dyslexia Association also provides a host of useful resources for parents and teachers alike.
Children with Dyspraxia also require an individualised teaching approach.This condition makes it difficult to concentrate, so it is necessary to use short, structured activities to maintain their interest, to break down big tasks into manageable ones and to provide your child with constant praise for his accomplishments. As he may have encountered many difficulties with learning in the past, it is vital to foment his sense of self-esteem and to show him that he can achieve great things while learning.
Practical tips include:
- Create a good learning environment at home: Children with visual impairments may be very sensitive to glare; they may read better with large fonts or greater contrast; deaf children, on the other hand, benefit greatly from visual stimulation. Children with learning disabilities, meanwhile, will do well in a quiet, uncluttered area, to ease focus and concentration. Find what works for your child and pursue their interests relentlessly. Try to engage more than one your child’s senses – use visual, tactile and auditory resources to make the lesson as engaging as you can.
- Purchase necessary, useful teaching materials: There are a host of specific charities and organisations in the UK (such as RNIB for the blind or NDCS for the deaf) which are dedicated to children with particular disabilities and they all provide information on useful materials as well as idea for how to teach particular subjects like maths, science, art or music.
- Invest your time in finding useful free resources: The Council for Disabled Children, for instance, provides informative guides on everything from autism training and consultancy services to how to access assistive technology for your child. It also lets you know what grants your child may be entitled to, and publishes reports on critical issues for disabled youth, such as employment.