The coronavirus Pandemic has not only impacted the routine for most people, but it has significantly disrupted the schedule of children with special needs. With the closing of special schools and daycare centers, a lot of parents may find themselves struggling with managing and educating children with special needs. Prior to the pandemic, the children had a routine to stick with which made the environment familiar. With the lockdown, a special child may not only have an intolerance for uncertainty but also show aggravated symptoms due to a restricted environment that does not match up with their regular routine. Hence the parents play an extremely crucial role. With the closing of schools, these children lack access to resource materials, social and peer group interactions, and opportunities for learning and developing important social and behavioral skills. Given this scenario, homeschooling becomes one of the major responsibilities of the parent. Below are a few points to help parents teach and manage their children at home.
- Make a routine chart with slots for different activities. Stick to the routine to the best of your capacity. This provides structure to the child’s day and helps ease the process of learning. When the child finds a structure, it becomes easy for parents to manage them better.
- Be realistic and don’t expect too much. Educating a child with special needs can be difficult and challenging simply because their capacity to acquire and retain information may not be similar to other children.
- Simplify the instructions before communicating it to your child. This includes breaking down the information into smaller chunks, altering the rate with which information is presented, providing extra processing time or wait time to learn and rehearse new information.
- Engage in sensory teaching. Children with special needs learn best when learning occurs through different sensory modalities. Rather than just teaching your child through the use of paper and pen, try to involve other senses like touch, visual, and hearing. Parents can inculcate multi-media to help their children learn better. Special children benefit significantly through the use of multi-media as learning occurs with the help of different sensory inputs making new information easy to remember and recall.
- Make use of visual cues and signboards. Special children may have a difficult time communicating verbally. In such a case, the parents should make an effort to communicate through the use of visual supports like photographs, drawings, signboards, and pointing to concrete objects. This might simply optimize the ability of the child to communicate and learn effectively
- Encourage even the slightest effort made by the child. In an environment that fosters positive reinforcement, the likelihood of the child to acquire and learn increases. This directly impacts the child’s self-esteem.
- Use of careful criticism. It’s very important for the parent to keep in mind the kind of feedback they provide to their children. A child with special needs may not be capable of understanding the reason, context, and logic of the feedback obtained. In such a situation use of wrong words when giving feedback may lead to unlearning of certain positive behaviors which were a result of effort and hard work.
- Don’t encourage negative attention. Being parents it’s natural to pamper your child. However, in the process, most of the parents fail to draw a distinction between satisfying their needs and encouraging unhealthy and problematic behavior. Satisfying the needs of the child when he/she displays an unhealthy behavior (temper tantrums) will only contribute to the development of negative attention-seeking belief in the child (Every time I cry, my parents provide me the toy). Therefore parents need to be careful and should engage in planned ignoring which is aimed to stop attention-seeking behaviors.
- Focus on the skills of the child. Instead of engaging your child in something he/she does not like, it’s much more useful to work off his talent and interest. This will not only contribute to increased competence but overall wellbeing.
- Use of expressive techniques. With the restricted home environment, engaging in dance, art, or music will cater to the fun and enjoyment of the child. Initially, the parent may participate with the child to make it more interesting. Later this can be made into a self-engaging activity where the child alone does it
- Work on communication. Using assertiveness training, teach the child that whenever he requires anything, he should ask- –‘Can I please get this thing. I need it’. Doing this will enhance his language skills and communication with others.
- Use of Token economies as an intervention can be very effective to increase positive behavior at home. The child earns a token (coin or stickers) every time he/she engages in healthy and positive behavior. The parent can then set criteria wherein after receiving 5 tokens the child will be given a bigger reward (favorite dish). With this parents can strengthen the good habits of their child at home.
- Inculcate simple activities and games to make learning more fun. For example- the concept of counting can be explained by inserting beads into the shoelace and the concept of color and size can be taught through the use of rainbow stacking ring.
- Make use of positive affirmations (I believe in you, I am proud of you) and read it aloud with your child. This will enhance and contribute to your child’s sense of self and confidence.
- Parents can form online support groups wherein they can interact with other parents with special needs. This will not only facilitate communication but also help them manage their anxiety and apprehensions. Parents can discuss techniques that are working for the benefit of their child and through sharing other parents may feel capable and more efficacious.
Lastly, as each child is unique and so is a child with special needs, an important takeaway message for parents is-
‘Teach the child in a way he can learn and not in a way you can teach!’