Homeschooling Students with Disabilities During COVID-19April 23, 2021
COVID-19 continues to be a challenge for many people. Though the roll out of the vaccine is going well, and we are looking forward to the new normal, we are unlikely to return to familiar territory for at least several months. Because of this, parents and caretakers are likely expected to educate their children from home to some extent for the time being, and many have chosen to make the shift to homeschooling permanent.
While homeschooling students is a challenging task at the best of times, for parents of children with physical, mental, emotional, or learning disabilities, there can be additional hurdles. These students are faced with the discomfort of new learning environments, and separation from their in-school educational support networks, along with the general disruption to their lives. This doesn’t always seem to create the ideal situation to empower a child with special educational needs.
The good news is parents are not entirely powerless in this scenario. We’re going to take a look at some of the most important ways parents and caretakers can help their students with disabilities adjust to learning and thriving at home during COVID-19 and beyond.
Arranging the Homeschool Environment
For many students with disabilities, the in-school surroundings became vital mechanisms that supported their learning. They may have developed routines and used tools that were conducive to their preferred approach to education. A formal space in which education occurs can also help children get into the frame of mind to connect with school work. Many parents have found, however, that the homeschool environment can be an equally nurturing one. Often, something as simple as specifically designating an area of your home as a learning space can help mitigate the adjustment issues.
If your child is neuroatypical, perhaps experiencing autism, their sensory sensitivity may find new learning environments overwhelming or even distracting. As such, making some decorative changes to make a more sensory-friendly home learning space may be in order. Paint over brightly colored walls with softer, warm colors that can be more comfortable for when your child has to concentrate on their school work. Ensuring that the teaching area is clutter-free can mitigate the potential for stressful situations for a neurodiverse learner. It can be helpful to invest in some cubbies, bookcases, or storage bins to keep surfaces tidy.
Similarly, if your child has visibility issues, it can be important to make some adjustments to the area in which they are learning. Make sure that any designated desks or workstations are not by windows, or in direct sunlight, as this helps to minimize glare on their computer screen. Swapping out your household bulbs in the room for fluorescent varieties can help to diffuse clear light throughout the space, and reduce the potential for a disruptive or uncomfortable glare.
Seeking Homeschool Resources
You already know that having a child who lives with a disability is challenging, but it can be made easier for everybody involved when the right resources are in place. The same is true for making learning from home a success. If your child had previously received various types of support from their in-person learning environment, they likely need similar measures at home.
Your initial step would be to set up a meeting with your child’s teacher and the special needs administrator. Make a point of talking through how they are currently undertaking remote education, what techniques and tools they are using, and how this may present hurdles in light of your child’s disability. Talk about what goals are outlined in the student’s individualized education program (IEP), and how the accommodations your child had a right to receive as part of the public school system will continue to be met in the future as you homeschool.
Unfortunately, school budgets are often stretched, and state educational institutions have struggled to provide quality education to students who don’t require additional resources. For this reason, many parents have transitioned to homeschooling their children. Online curriculum resources, with additions for special educational needs, can be a vital method of support to ensure that your child doesn’t miss out on activities and knowledge that can help them thrive. It may be that this can form part of a blended independent homeschooling and remote schooling approach. If this is the case, your child’s teacher may be able to provide curriculum resources, worksheets, and activities for independent, supplemental use.
Utilizing Homeschool Tools
Successfully educating a student at home during COVID-19 and beyond often comes down to how you utilize tools. Homeschooling a disabled child can be complex, particularly if it is a new venture, but supportive technology and software can make a big difference.
This can include:
- Organizational Software
When COVID-19 caused in-school practices to be halted, some of the issues many parents and students found to be problematic were the lack of structure, and clarity of methods and tasks. To avoid this problem through the transition from remote schooling to homeschooling, it can be helpful to use classroom organizational applications such as Homeschool Helper and iPlan Lessons. If, initially, your student with disabilities is still being primarily remotely taught by teachers, these tools can still be used to keep the details of assignments, activities, and even scheduling organized to make sure nothing slips through the net.
- Communications Tools
It is important to have excellent communication protocols. This is particularly vital when your child experiences challenges in understanding or interpreting information using the common remote teaching video calls. Look into how the platforms used by teachers can be adapted or improved to meet your child’s needs. Some organizations, like Resource Materials and Technology Center for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing, are already providing guides for parents and educators on how to adapt common communications and collaboration software sites.
During COVID-19, too many students with disabilities were detrimentally affected by the shift to remote learning. To have the most positive impact while supporting your child’s education as you shift toward homeschooling permanently, it is vital to adjust the environment in which they are learning, and obtain the right resources from the school or education department. Remember to carefully review how you and your child use the tools that can support their learning and work together to ensure that they don’t fall through the all-too-common gaps in the traditional education system at this time.
More About the Author:
Sam Bowman is a writer who enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time, he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.