From figuring out how to help a child with a learning disability manage homework to dealing with public behavior outbursts on even the best of days, raising a child with a disability is challenging. Many special education teachers have years of expertise when it comes to handling academic and behavior situations. Use these expert tips to handle everything from homework to dinnertime.
Ellen Arnold, education consultant, suggests using a visual schedule with movable parts to help your child see what’s going to happen, and any changes in the routine. Choose a daily Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) or a more general magnetic calendar depending on what your child needs (both options found at Amazon.com).
Set Structure Within Structure
When it's homework time, Dr. George Giuliani and Dr. Roger Pierangelo, executive directors of the National Association of Special Education Teachers, suggest ranking assignments to help kids prioritize. Have your child check in with you every five problems or five minutes so you can check their progress and correct mistakes early, without pressuring them.
Use a Timer
For easier transitions, Mary Z. McGrath, PhD, former special education teacher and author, recommends using a Time Timer. This timer has a red section that shows time passing and gives kids a visual idea of how much time they have left.
Figure Out Your Child’s “Smarts”
Figure out which kind of “smart” your child is by watching him play. What toys does he choose? Which activities is he most successful at? If he's older, ask about a time when he was successful and how he stayed focused enough to succeed. Once you figure out how kids learn and what keeps them focused, says Arnold, you can adapt any homework assignment or project to make them more successful.
See the Big Picture
If your child gets stuck during homework time, don’t worry as much about the details of the assignment as what your child is supposed to do, says Arnold. Once you know what skill your child is supposed to demonstrate, adjust the assignment so your child can meet the same learning objectives using her strengths.
Make it Multi-Sensory
“Research indicates that the more sensory input children receive, the greater the chance the information will be retained,” says Giuliani. Find audio books, record textbook passages, or invest in a set of math manipulatives to help kids get more information into their brains.
Acknowledge the Disability
The first key to understanding your child’s behavior is to understand him as a person, including his disability, and set behavior expectations he can meet. It isn’t fair to expect that if your child works hard the disability will disappear, says Arnold. But, he can learn how to compensate for his disability and succeed.
Special education teachers use notes to track patterns of behavior and come up with ways to change them. Take notes on the behavior you want to change and answer these questions: What is the purpose of the behavior? What need does it meet? What environmental conditions might affect the behavior? What socially acceptable things could your child do to meet that need? Once you have your answers, use them to create a plan to address the behavior.
Keep Your Cool
If you do get into a behavior “situation” (think: public tantrum), breathe. “I tell teachers to breathe every time they hear the bell,” says McGrath. When you hear your child starting to get upset, take it as a cue to breathe. Then, give clear, calm directions and explain what will happen next. Your calm voice will tell your child that you’re in control.
Use Limited Choice
Instead of open-ended questions (What do you want?) give your kids two acceptable options to choose from (Would you like to drink from a pink cup or a blue one?).
Save energy and pick your battles by treating energy like money, advises Giuliani. Decide which behaviors are worth $2 and which are worth $200 and you’ll deal with the behaviors that matter the most.
Use Punishment Effectively
Make sure that punishments aren’t too harsh or too long (one minute of “time out” for every year of a child’s age, for example). And, make sure you bring the punishment to a close with a debriefing so your child understands how to behave differently the next time.
Choose to Wait
Instead of dealing out consequences when you’re fuming, Giuliani and Pierangelo recommend waiting. Use this script to buy yourself some cool off time: "I am so angry now that I don't want to deal with this situation. Go to your room and I'll deal with you in 15 minutes."
Special education professionals know the tricks to keep kids like yours moving in the right direction. Use these tips, and you'll be tapping in to a lifetime of ready solutions that will make your life easier, and your child more successful at school and at home.