Supporting Your Child with SEND needs at home
Home-schooling can be really difficult for all parents, but it is particularly hard for parents of children with special educational needs. You may find that it is difficult to get your child to engage with the learning being provided by school. The first thing to do is to stay calm and don’t panic! There may be any number of reasons why your child doesn’t want to do school work at home.
Here are some top tips to help:
As tiring as it may seem, keeping a routine during lockdown will help your child feel secure and make it clear what you will be expecting of them throughout the day. Not keeping to a routine can cause anxiety and changing expectations can lead to meltdowns.
Visual timetables can help a lot of children who find it hard to remember the structure their day will take. This could look something like this:
Remember! This is just an example. Create a timetable that suits your child, you and the rest of your family. It really doesn’t have to be as detailed, colour-coded or even contain many words! Sometimes pictures like those on the left are more useful.
Also, don’t worry about timetabling in every part of the day – as long as it’s clear when learning time and breaks are, that is enough to give the framework of a routine.
Amount of work and timings
The key is to keep things short and sweet! Many children with SEND struggle to maintain focus or give their full attention to a piece of work for a long amount of time. So, let’s make it easy for them by keeping learning short and to the point.
The ‘input’ part of learning is where the children are either watching/listening to their teacher explain something on Seesaw or reading instructions or where you are reading the instructions with them and explaining their task. Some children will have switched off by the end of the input! This is OK and also to be expected with some children’s needs.
To support children with this, keep an eye on them while they are engaging with the input. Are they following it? Do you need to pause the video/recording/stop them reading to ask them questions to check they understand? Do you need to do some example questions together?
If you feel they’ve had enough at the end of the input, write down, with your child’s support, some short bullet points to help them return to this task after a 5 minute break.
1) Look at the picture.
2) Say what you can see in it out loud.
3) Write down the sentence you have said out loud.
4) Read the sentence you have written. Do you need to change anything in it?
5) Give your child a 5 minute break before they return to do the task!
A lot of children with SEND will struggle to concentrate for long periods of time during a task so break the work into ‘chunks’. Set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes and place that near them so they know how much time they have to work for. Knowing that they only have to work for this time, should help them focus. If they haven’t completed the task once the 10 minutes is up, either get them to return to it for a short amount of time after a break or make the decision that they have completed enough and it’s time to move on.
Please also remember that the best time to get the best out of your child in terms of learning is the morning.
Please don’t attempt something incredibly complex or a subject they don’t like in the afternoon and never work beyond the end of the school day!
This links very closely with focus and attention and is an area that many children with SEND find difficult. This is often linked to ‘auditory memory’; the ability to remember what you have heard in the correct order. There are a few key things that you can do to support your child to follow instructions to achieve in their learning.
Make sure that you have your child’s attention before you give an instruction.
Say their name, get down to their level and get eye contact where they are willing to give it. (Some children find giving eye contact intimidating so it’s not always a good idea to demand it.)
Give one instruction at a time.
It’s really easy to fall into the trap of giving lots of instructions at once without realising: “Go upstairs to my room and find my phone (I think it’s on top of the cupboard) and look up information on dinosaurs.” Some children will find it hard to listen beyond “Go upstairs.” So, just stick with one at a time.
Where your child has to follow a series of instructions, write down what they have to do in the correct order. If they are at the early stages of reading, use pictures. For example: 1) Get a pencil and a ruler. (Draw a pencil and a ruler) 2) Measure 2 centimetres. (Draw the end of a ruler with an arrow pointing to 2 centimetres.) etc.
For information on exercises to practise auditory and visual memory, see the ‘Supporting working memory’ document mentioned above.
It’s very difficult to set up a perfect learning environment at home but there are a few key things which will help your child concentrate and stay calm.
- Turn off the TV and the radio! These might normally be on in the background at home but they could provide a huge distraction for a child with SEND.
- As much as possible, keep their workspace clear and clutter free. Only have the books and stationery they need while they are concentrating. Other things may prove distracting.
- If you are fortunate (!) enough to be home-schooling more than one child, try to focus on one at a time and support the others to be in a separate space. This will help with distraction too although I know it’s really difficult! (I get one of mine to read or draw in a bedroom while I sit at the kitchen table with the other. Then we swap!)
- Think about the chair they are sitting on. Is it easy to reach the table properly? Could you get a cushion/towel/blanket for them to sit on? Can their feet reach the floor from their seat? Is there a step, stool, box they can put their feet on to stop them swinging their legs?
- Give them as many opportunities to get down from where they are working, stretch their legs and get some natural light on their faces! (More about physical breaks later.)
Physical activity and breaks from work are important to all children but particularly for children with SEND. Many children with ADHD and ASC traits also have sensory needs. People often think of this as not liking crowded spaces or sudden loud noises but there is a lot more to sensory needs.
Some children will seek sensory feedback which, to a parent or teacher, can look like constant fidgeting and not being able to sit still! As I mentioned in the learning environment section, try to find your child something to sit on to work. This will give them a more satisfying feedback than a hard chair.
They may find it useful to fiddle with something while they are concentrating on the ‘input’ part of learning. This can often be something like playdough or blu-tac as it’s satisfying to squeeze. Let your child do this but make sure that it doesn’t become a distraction once they start working.
Do your ‘daily exercise’! Get out to the park or a big open space where your child can have a run. Be careful, though; trying to get your child to concentrate straight after intense activity might lead to an explosion. Give them time to get their breath back and calm down.
See whether deep pressure hugs or placing something on your child’s lap (a towel or blanket) while they are working helps them.
For sensory resources that you can borrow for a free trial see: https://lendinglibrary.gympanzees.org/
This is one of the most talked-about areas amongst all parents during home-schooling: how can I get my child to do this work when they don’t want to?!
It is incredibly difficult to motivate your child to complete their home-schooling particularly if they are finding it difficult due to their SEND needs. A lot of ways to support your child with this link to advice in the ‘Amount of work’ and ‘Following instructions’ sections.
- Keep the amount of time they are learning for short. If they know it’s going to take hours, they won’t even want to start.
- Lots of regular breaks. No teachers at school would expect a child to sit still at a table for 3 hours doing maths, followed by literacy, followed by science without a break. If a child knows that once they start working they won’t get a break until it’s finished, they won’t start.
- Be realistic. When you are looking at the work your child has to do, if you think they won’t be able to do all of it in one go, just get them to do a bit of it and complete the rest later or the next day. Explain to your child’s teacher and they will understand.
- Set clear expectations. If you are using a timer to work for 5/10 or 15 minute chunks, make it clear that you expect real concentration in those 5/10/15 minutes! Don’t suddenly add another 5 minutes if you don’t feel they’ve done enough. Still have a break then return to it if you need to.
Research shows that rewards are much more motivating than sanctions! Think about what your child really loves and try to find a way to reward them for their work with what they love. My daughter would do anything for a sticker so I use them daily but it can be something as simple as “If you do your maths learning every day this week, you get to choose the film we watch on Friday.” Be careful about setting the reward too far ahead. The end of the week will feel like forever for some children so they may need daily rewards but keep those small. Or you could use daily rewards (like a sticker chart) to work towards a big reward at the end of the week. Be creative with rewards but be consistent. Your child will quickly work out if you forget to give them their reward.
If something isn’t working, stop it! If your child really isn’t understanding a piece of work, give them (and yourself) a break. Explain that you’ll come to it again tomorrow and ask your child’s teacher about it if you need to.
For a helpful websites to support parent/carers with children with ADHD and ASC traits.
Parents awaiting an autism assessment for their child
There is currently a very long waiting list in the Bristol area for an autism assessment and it can be a frustrating process trying to contact services to find out how far down the waiting list your child is.
There is a general phone number you can call to find this out, 03001256206, but you may have more luck e-mailing the autism hub on firstname.lastname@example.org
I have saved the most important part till last! Living through this pandemic and having to educate your child at home is incredibly challenging and has taken a toll on parent’s and children’s well-being. All staff at Knowle Park Primary School put children’s well-being ahead of anything else so, please look after yourselves and your children. It is more important to us that your children are happy than they can add improper fractions!
For more Well-Being support for your child, yourself and your family CLICK HERE
For more SEND support ideas CLICK HERE