Supporting Students with Special Learning Needs at Home - Digital Promise

Supporting Students with Special Learning Needs at Home

An elementary student takes notes in a garden.

October 28, 2020 | By

Digital Promise and Learning Heroes have teamed up for a special blog series that explores how teachers and families can use technology to work together and facilitate learning for students of all ages. The series centers on the experiences of teachers and parents and provides family-focused tips and resources to support children’s academic progress, social-emotional development, and overall well-being. Read the first, second, and third posts in the series here.

The start of every school year comes with many different emotions — from the nervous excitement of a kindergartener getting ready to meet her teacher for the first time, to the enthusiasm of a graduating senior entering his final year. As students and families navigate this range of feelings, they are facing additional stress this year. In fact, aside from safety amid COVID-19, parents’ top concern is the loss of social interactions for their children.

It’s important for teachers to let parents know how they are integrating this aspect into their teaching. It’s also helpful to provide parents with easy-to-use information for supporting learners’ life skills (social and emotional development), students in special education programs, and English language learners. Below are tips and resources for educators to share with families.

Supporting Life Skills at Home

  • Pay attention and learn the signs of your child’s level of stress. Children’s social and emotional skills affect how they get along with others. Changes in routine, such as school closures and being away from friends and family, can cause increased stress. Your child may show signs of this through tantrums, excessive reactions to minor situations, changes in sleep patterns, regression (such as bathroom accidents), or withdrawal. See below for resources on how to help your child or teenager manage stress.
  • Identify and talk about feelings. Changes to routines can be challenging for everyone, especially when it means distancing from friends and family. Let your child know that all feelings are okay. Talk about what to do when they are overwhelmed (such as taking breaks, trying again when calm, asking for help, or looking at problems in different ways). Help your child manage their emotions by talking about feelings, taking deep breaths, listening to music, participating in hobbies, exercising, making healthy food choices, getting enough sleep, and staying connected with family and friends. Find time to laugh, talk about what you are grateful for, and play games your child enjoys.
  • Manage your own stress in healthy ways to better support your child. If you react in a way you do not feel good about, offer an apology. (“I’m sorry that I yelled earlier. I shouldn’t have done that.”) When calm, share how you were feeling. (“I felt really frustrated when I asked if you finished your schoolwork. When you didn’t answer, I thought you were ignoring me.”) Let your child know what you plan to do differently next time, and ask what your child can do differently, too. Remember that you are not alone and help can be just a short phone call or text away. Here is an example of a text-based mental health resource for parents. Reach out to local families to share ideas and to support each other.

Supporting Students in Special Education Programs

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools are required by law to provide free and appropriate public education to all students, including students with disabilities. In a virtual learning environment, there are many ways you can continue to support your child’s academic and linguistic development.

  • Review IEP or 504 plan and collaborate with your team of teachers to support learning at home. Coordinate with classroom or subject-area teachers, special education teachers, and other specialists—such as occupational or speech therapists—to continue service provision and/or make accommodations at home. Work together and use helpful tools to prepare the whole team, including the child, for virtual learning.
  • Get speech or occupational therapy support. Try this great resource to support your child at home. You will find social stories, visual aids, at-home tips for speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and more.
  • Use strategies that benefit all learners. Some children may benefit from shorter learning activities. Engage in learning with your child when possible to help them focus. Use pictures, physical movement, and hands-on activities to make learning more concrete for your child. All children benefit from these strategies. Websites, including Edutopia,, and state departments, offer helpful family resources to meet your child’s needs at home.

Supporting English Language Learners

  • Ask for translation and interpretation services. If your home language isn’t English, you have the right to ask your school for free over-the-phone interpretation or translation services. Ask for translated school communications (e.g., emails) as well as resources to support your child’s learning, such as translated instructions for how to use school technology or interpretation support to communicate with your child’s teacher. For example, you can request that PowerPoint presentations include live subtitles in your preferred language.
  • Support your child’s learning in your home language. Bilingual websites, including Colorín Colorado and Wide Open School, provide learning activities for Spanish speakers. Talk, read print or digital books, share family stories, and sing together in your home language. Research shows that being bilingual has positive outcomes, such as helping children connect with their culture. Research shows that bilingual children also tend to show greater empathy than their peers, are able to transfer knowledge and skills learned across more than one language and culture, and have stronger self-control skills, which are critical for academic success.

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