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How to “Become the Teacher” for your Kids with an IDD

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — April 24, 2020 — 5 min read
Being homebound to prevent the spread of the coronavirus means that many parents have taken on more duties related to children’s schooling. They’re having to find all sorts of creative ways to keep their children engaged and learning while at home.
Parents who have a child with special learning needs face that same challenge, but it can look a little different. They may try too hard to do a good job, or place extra pressure on themselves as they take a larger role as their child’s educator. They may feel worried that their child, their teachers, or the school principal will think they’re doing a bad job.
It’s kind of like when you look at all those great pictures on Pinterest. You think to yourself, “I’m going to bake all these wonderful cakes!” Or, “I’ll decorate my house perfectly, too!” Then reality takes hold. You realize you don’t have the time, energy, or skill to create anything like what you see online.
When parents place unrealistic expectations on themselves, they may cause even more stress for themselves and their child. That is especially true right now when things are already chaotic.
Instead, it is helpful if parents acknowledge that there are things outside of their control—and just move on from there. The idea is to turn wishful fantasy into a reality that works for everyone in the household.
So how do you step into the role of teacher now that teachers aren’t physically with your child during the school day? How do you make sure your child’s progress is both preserved and made? Here are some tips that may help:

1. Recognize the role of disruption. Your child’s whole routine has changed. It is not just the way they learn and who they learn from, either. Their social life and support systems are interrupted, too. And now home, which has been a place of relaxation and refuge, has become the place where learning happens, too. It’s a big adjustment for everyone.

2. Stay connected to your child’s teachers. Know that teachers are invested in the success of your child. They want to connect and hear from both of you. Seeing their teachers is good for your child, too, to know that they are still part of their lives. Making that connection is important, even if your child may not outwardly respond. In addition to being involved in preparing schoolwork and checking in on their progress, teachers know the challenges you may be facing. While they may not understand the uniqueness of it in some ways, they can grasp what you’re going through. They are there for your child as an advocate and support system.

3. Accept that you’re learning a new skill. The truth is, there are a lot of special skills and dynamics that go into being a good teacher for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). It takes time to develop methods that will work for your child, and it doesn’t come automatically. Ask teachers what techniques have been successful in the school setting and as part of your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Try to bring that into your “school” at home if you can. But if you can’t, that’s OK. With support from your family and your children’s teachers and aides, you’ll find your way.

4. Find the balance between structure and being flexible. It’s important for children to have structure in their school day, but it shouldn’t be rigid. Being flexible is key. One of the nice things about home school is that you can add small activities into your day that break up the routine. Like going for a walk in the middle of the day, if that fits your current stay-at-home guidelines, or doing a lesson after dinner if that works better for your family. Lessons don’t need to be done at a desk or table, either. If your child likes music, sing number or alphabet songs while making dinner. That counts!

5. Try not to tie your efforts to specific outcomes. There are just some things you won’t be able to control no matter how organized you are or how well you teach it. Be willing to let things go.

6. Trust your instincts. If what you’re doing isn’t working and you and your child are feeling that, follow your intuition and try something different. As a parent, you are THE expert on your child in the setting you’re working with right now. Let that fact help guide you forward to try new things.

7. Search out new and interesting resources. The Family Support program at the UNC School of Social Work’s website offers a number of valuable COVID-19/coronavirus resources to help families with children who have special needs and disabilities. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens holds weekly virtual field trips that children might enjoy. There are also a lot of cool learning tools you can find online, such as virtual museum tours, or DIY crafts with common household items, or even cooking videos, for example.

We understand it has been a challenging few weeks, and our world has been turned upside down because of COVID-19. But it will end. And as we slowly transition back into our flow, you can take comfort in knowing you’ve developed great skills that will stay with your family as things get back to normal.

About the Author:
Felicia Williams, Member Engagement Specialist with Cardinal Innovations Healthcare

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