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Tips for Successful Remote Learning for Children with Special Needs  

By September 2, 2020November 12th, 2021No Comments

As students begin to return back to school, remote learning continues to be a component of the learning experience for all WNY districts. For parents of children with special needs, remote learning has a unique set of challenges.

From behavioral challenges to technological challenges, adapting to the ‘new normal’ requires parents to utilize several strategies to foster a successful learning environment. Here are some tips to help your child get the best out of learning from home.

Communicate with your child’s teacher
Be sure to find out the teacher’s schedule for virtual office hours in order for your child to meet with their teacher, how you access the district’s technical support if needed and how your child’s attendance will be monitored during remote learning. These are important things to find out if they have not been addressed.

It’s not enough to glance at emails or other means that your child’s teacher may be providing information.  The communication that is meaningful is when you and the teacher collaborate and discuss what is working and what isn’t working for your child.

Some questions you may want to think about to ask your child’s teacher are:
Does your child need tasks broken down into smaller chunks?  Do they need regularly scheduled check-in time with the teacher?  Are they doing well with certain tasks?  Do you notice that your child needs more examples of how to start a response or how to complete a task?

Time management is key
Just as you did when your child was attending traditional school – consider setting and maintaining a predictable daily routine that is adapted to learning in a virtual format.  For example: a set bedtime, a set wake time, set meal and snack times, digital learning time(s), physical activity, play or fun time, etc.  The routine or schedule may be somewhat flexible from day-to-day, but it serves as an important structure for your child and your family

Set learning expectations
Take a tip from teachers:  consider using a simple checklist to help your child maintain focus on the lesson expectations.  For example, if your child is expected to watch a video, read a passage, and answer a prompt; you could create a simple checklist that says watch/read/answer and your child can check off each component.  This is affirming to your child, promotes responsibility and independence and helps them to maintain their focus.  You may find that immediate reinforcement and praise as they complete each step is an effective way to help your child maintain their motivation, too.

If your child is not yet reading, you could create the same simple checklist visually with a picture of a laptop, computer, or tablet (whatever device they are using) for “watch”, a picture of a book for “read”, and a picture of a keyboard for “answer.” It may be helpful to let them check off each component with their favorite color marker, star stickers, etc.

Adopt positive language used by teachers to encourage your child

                             Instead of           Consider saying
“No – that’s the wrong way to do it” or ”that’s not how you do it” “I’m not sure that this is the best way to…we might try…”
“That’s not the right answer” “I can see where you were going, and maybe it would be helpful if…”
“That’s the best that you can do?” “I can see that you put some effort into this.  Let’s compare it to the checklist (or sample) to be sure that all of the required parts are there and that this is your best effort”
“I don’t know – I went to school 20 years ago and we didn’t do it that way” “I don’t know the right answer or best way to do this either.  Let’s think of the ways that we can figure this out together”

Speaking this may feel a little awkward or odd at first, but using these stems for framing your responses to your child definitely helps!  They help you to keep it together, they help your child from feeling inferior, like a failure, or powerless to learn, and they help you and your child to maintain a positive relationship as you give each other a little grace.

Does your child have ADHD, ADD or sensory needs?
If your child has ADHD, ADD or sensory needs, you may wish to encourage quiet fidgeting during instruction and tasks. For some children, the act of fidgeting actually promotes paying attention. You may consider providing them with items such as rubber bands, paper clips, Rubric’s Cube, fidget spinner, squishies, nubby/spiky ball, pipe cleaners, mini Slinky-type spring toys, spiral twister toys, Koosh-type balls (also called monkey stringy balls), sensory finger rings, and hedgehog roller balls.  There are lots of quiet fidgets available at minimal cost.

Another consideration for parents is to schedule in movement time to address the “squirmies.” Plan short movement breaks throughout the day (moving and grooving to a video clip/song, playing Simon Says, singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, hula hooping, stretching) – you get the idea!

Let your child take breaks
There are more than enough stressors, and remote learning shouldn’t make your family miserable!  If your child is becoming frustrated:

  • take a little break
  • talk to the teacher about the difficulty to look for ideas/suggestions
  • come back to the task with fresh, positive attitudes
  • break it into smaller mini-tasks
  • allow more time paired with additional examples, practice, and guidance


With a little patience and engagement on your part and a solid, positive partnership with your child’s teacher, your child can learn the skill or topic.  Maybe not all at once in this moment, but they can achieve the goal!

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