When it comes to helping special needs children excel in school, I thought I knew it all. As a general ed teacher, I have taught students of varying abilities and felt very confident in being able to help them do well academically. It wasn’t until I became a parent of a special needs child that I really came to understand how challenging, yet worthwhile, this path can be.
When people with special needs attend school, their experiences are going to be different than those of their fellow students. Let that sink in for a second. Your child’s school experience will not mirror anyone else’s. Not yours, not their siblings, not their peers. Accepting this is one of the first ways that you can help them enjoy and do well in the classroom.
You’ll also accept that differentiation is not a bad thing. Special needs children may not be like everyone else, but a person’s unique qualities are what set them apart and makes them exceptional.
Here are a few ways to help your child with special needs excel in school.
Be Active in Academics
The implementation of No Child Left Behind changed the way that people with special needs are taught. In the past, special needs children were almost always in separate classrooms from regular ed students. Now, inclusion practices, have flipped this. Children with learning disabilities spend most of their time in the general ed classroom with their peers. This comes with lots of positives and a few challenges as well.
If you’re reading this article, then you probably realize that being active in your child’s academics is important. The ‘how to’ can be a little tricky. Here are some things that I’ve found helpful.
- Introduce yourself to your teacher early on. Building a good rapport from day one will make it easier for you to reach out later on if you have questions or concerns.
- Join the PTA. Parent-teacher associations connect educators and parents, forming a bond to help students of all abilities succeed. Special needs children and their families should take advantage of parenting resources offered, including Our Children Online Magazine
- Establish an after school routine. Parents may have limited control of the classroom but are completely in charge of what happens at home. Setting an after school routine, establishing good study habits, and subscribing to interactive programs that will help your child improve skills is a good start.
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Play on Your Child’s Strengths
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and people with special needs are no different. Helping them to discover this provides motivation to succeed in school.
What seems to be a disadvantage can often times reap a multitude of benefits. For example, someone with a specific condition will certainly empathize with others in a situation like theirs, so when they grow up, they can help those other people. The challenges they have faced and will face, are probably going to be similar. Nobody can understand the situation as well as those who are in it themselves.
People with autism, for example, are often placed in special needs classes. One of the possible symptoms, however, is an intense focus on a specific subject. It is rather easy to see how this can be turned into a strength. That kind of determination is extremely rare and may serve to one day put them at the top of their field.
Have (or help) your child take a quiz to see what kind of learner he or she is and then play off of these strengths. You can also work in multisensory learning activities based on the results.
Be Somebody to Lean On
We know that being different is not a bad thing. However, kids – especially young ones – are not always old enough to understand this. They also have trouble comprehending the effects of their words and actions. While this is a problem that nobody wishes existed, the fact is that it does.
Being a person with special needs means that life will be a bit different. It will have unique challenges, just as everyone’s life does, and those challenges can be overcome. They will not be quite the same as other children their age, but this is not a bad thing. It simply means that they will travel down the path of life in a different way than most – and this can be seen as a great opportunity for both you and your child.
Each of the following tips above will help your child exceed in their schoolwork, whether directly or indirectly. As their parent or guardian, the role you play in your child’s success cannot be understated. Being supportive and taking the time to make sure they feel happy and fulfilled will make all the difference for them, and there is no substitute for