7 Strategies for Parents of Children With Special Needs to Have a Great Online School Year

By Dr. Teresa Flores

Middle School

This school year is like no other in the history of education. Everyone is discovering how incredible technology can be while also realizing its limitations. With so many kids doing school online, it’s hard to know what you should be doing as a parent/caregiver to help.

And, this task becomes even greater if your child has special needs. Here are some tips to help your child take on the new school year with confidence and competence!


1. Be an Expert

No one is better equipped to be an expert on your child than you are as the parent or caregiver. However, knowing the school version of your child is a little different.

To make sure they continue to have success with at-home online learning, you will want to do some research. Take what you know about your child and add to that. Find legitimate sources and resources for your child. You will want to know everything you can know about your child’s disability. This includes any limitations they have that will make learning a challenge.

On the other hand, you also want to know what adaptions related to your child’s disability makes learning easier. For instance, I have a friend with ADHD. He discovered that studying in a quiet place makes learning more difficult. He cannot learn anything in the library. But when the TV is on or there is background noise at a coffee shop, his brain tunes in and he learns quite easily.

Every child is different, but research will give you greater insight into what will help or hurt your child’s education. You also want to be well-versed in the rights your child has within the school system. Then you can use what you know to find proper resources for your child.

Some legitimate sources to check out:


2.  IEP:  Review, Rewrite, Remember

Your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) is your greatest weapon in the fight for your child’s best education. At the beginning of the school year, you will want to review the IEP on your own and with your child’s teachers. Given that school will be at least partially online, you will likely need some modifications to the original plan. You may have to make changes based on the format of schooling or the limitations of working at home.

For instance, a teacher may need to email information to you ahead of time so that you can read the work aloud to your child before the rest of the class is engaged in the lesson. You will want to browse through every line of the IEP and ask the school how they are providing the accommodations without being in direct day-to-day contact with your child.

If you have ideas or find research that advises on certain modifications, raise your hand, ask questions and challenge any areas that seem to create a disadvantage for your child with special needs. If needed, the school can rewrite and revise what is needed for your child to be successful. Then remember what is said. This means that you review that IEP multiple times over the year so that you can ensure your child is getting what he or she needs.


3.  Stock Up

If your child has special needs, you may already have many items in your house to accommodate any challenges that come up in day-to-day life. However, with schooling at home online, you will probably need supplies that aid in his or her learning.

Once you have completed your IEP revisions and talked with the teachers about accommodations, you may need to buy or create some things to make learning more straightforward.

You may be entitled to certain technology or materials provided through the school.  There are also many parent-teacher stores and libraries with supplies that will help your child learn.


4.  Your Day Job: Virtual Teacher Assistant

A child with special needs generally needs more of a hands-on approach. The teacher’s hands are tied since he or she is across the county on video. So you are on deck!

Prepare to be the teacher’s helper or virtual teacher assistant. As mentioned, discuss with the teacher what modifications are needed and the best way for you to help with those modifications.

The goal of helping is not to spy on the teacher or sit in on classes. Some schools have policies regarding these issues. You will want to make sure your teacher knows that you are there to assist as needed so that your child is getting any accommodations they need.


5.  Create Virtually Great School Days

We all know that the point of school is learning. So you want to think of the best ways to make sure your child is learning while also having a good day at school. This includes making sure your kid gets enough sleep and has proper supplies.

Additionally, you will want to create times throughout the day for breaks and distractions. Looking at a computer screen for hours can be exhausting, even for adults. Children are prone to distraction. So why not create the distractions periodically? In other words, have times in the day when your child can do something they want to do, even for just a few minutes, to break the constant focus on the computer and relax.

At Sylvan, we had a child with autism and she had trouble focusing. Over time, the teacher noticed that if she gave this child a coloring sheet halfway into the hour, she was able to refocus much better than just being verbally prompted. A few minutes of coloring was a reward and a moment to not feel the pressures of school. And, when this student went back to learning, she was able to refocus while also knowing that she was going to get to color again (be rewarded) for doing her best the rest of the time!


6.  Stress Less

With Covid-19, most of the country has been bombarded with information that creates worry and anxiety. If your child has special needs, you already felt some anxiousness about your child’s education. Now that coupled with a threat of illness and changes to your education routines have made life even more stressful. And, your child likely feels stress and anxiety, too. In the best interest of you both, make sure that your day has some relaxation.

This may be some yoga stretches, doing a few minutes of mindful meditation or taking a walk. The school counselor will not be easily accessed, so it may be just taking time to let your child express his or her feelings and talk through any frustrations and worries. Be a sympathetic ear, and try to manage your own stress to lessen the tension in your home.


7.  Finish With Fun!

Finally, you have come to the end of the school day, which most children would describe as the best part of the school day. Children are having to work hard and adjust just as you are. Plan some fun at the end of the day. Maybe you have a favorite TV show or game you could play to end the day.

Take a few moments when the last book (or laptop/device) is closed to do something fun to reward your child for surviving another day of challenges and transition into the new arena of learning. Enjoy the adventure!


Need some support?

Many Sylvan locations can help children who have special needs with their learning goals. Call your local Sylvan today to chat with us about how we can help!