Working with parents of children with special needs can present special challenges to educators. Here are some tips from a dad to help make the job easier.
1. Try to get a complete picture of the child’s “homework scene” Encourage parents to discuss the details of working with their child at home such as where the homework is done, where the child is sitting, and where the parents are during homework time.
2. Encourage parents to establish one space, preferably quiet, in the home for doing homework.
3. Try to get parents/partners to work together with children on homework. On a given night, one parent may be able to get results that the other can’t.
4. Encourage the use of props, especially for counting. These could include toys, objects such as clothespins, or favorite foods.
5. Encourage parents to ask questions about the homework and education of their child. Remember, this could be unfamiliar territory to them, and they may feel intimidated. When possible, make sure that both parents hear your answers.
6. Start a notebook for parents and include your professional e-mail address. Communicate frequently.
7. If your homework doesn’t seem age/grade appropriate, send short explanations home telling why you’re assigning it. This will motivate parents to help complete the homework.
8. Convey as many tips and tricks from the classroom as possible to parents. For instance, my son’s teachers had him using little pencils, like those from a miniature golf course, to improve his grip when writing.
9. In conferences, the parents may be in front of you, but sometimes the whole family is attending the conference, even if the siblings or grandparents aren’t there. If you have the right relationship with the parent, ask about the siblings.
10. Help make it clear which routines and educational tools for children with special needs should be similar and which should be different between home and school.
11. Try to not lecture parents on matters outside your expertise.
12. Your parents are going to be trying their own tactics. Communicate and learn from them.
Jill Cornfield and Jeff Stimpson’s son Alex is 11 and diagnosed with autism (PDD-NOS). Stimpson is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie, and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism.
For more information on differentiation strategies to reach ALL learners, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Special Needs in the General Classroom, Strategies That Make It Work. Available in both print and electronic versions!
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