Interviews

AT HOME WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

by GAUTAMI KAPILA

The pandemic has severely affected the education of each child across the globe. There have been few limitations on how we educators or therapists can do their best for the learning of the child. Online education is now the new normal. But when we talk about children with special needs, the concerns are not the same.

Think of a child who has been in a routine for long, receiving therapies and is now confined to their home. The child who has trouble sitting in one place, or a child who is unable to express their basic needs. The entire struggle of getting the child to sit in front of the screen for long hours. Unfortunately, there is no choice left, the only way to give them some sense of routine is by ensuring they attend regular classes. Staying connected with peers and teachers is one way of taking care of one’s mental health.

Parents are playing a huge role during the pandemic. While they are taking care of other responsibilities, they are also ensuring their child is able to adapt with the new change.

Raising a child with special needs can be extremely exhausting at times.

Since online education for kids is the new way of learning, but the fact that the educator or the therapist is on the other side of the laptop, parents need to take charge.

Here are few recommendations parents can follow at home for their kids during this lockdown.

1. Clear Expectations

Having well-defined expectations is imperative at home since children with special needs thrive in a structured and predictable environment. Have a list of household rules, visual reminders in a place that is easy for everyone to see, and be sure to discuss these with your kid if you need to make any changes. Also, it is considered favourable to demonstrate your expectations for your child at home.

Show them the complete process step by step and finished product, practice with them, and then encourage them to do it independently. At times, it will be difficult for a child with special needs to understand, why there is a difference in the expectation for him /her, and their siblings.

In such a case, it is instrumental you have similar rules and expectations for both. Certainly, the degree of work can differ keeping the age group in mind. The idea of maintaining the same expectations reduces the chances of jealousy and inferiority. Also, this helps the sibling understand that both the kids are the same; they are both valued the same way

2.Opportunities to Lead:

At home, as a parent, give your child opportunities to lead. For instance, let them teach you any recent concept they studied in math or ask them to write down the grocery list each week or simply just setting up a table for dinner.

These smaller tasks will allow them to lead and to feel proud of their achievements. It is imperative for children to take responsibility. This makes them feel independent and in control of themselves. The thought of depending on someone else can be frustrating for them.  Help them learn new skills and let them enjoy this experience too.

Do not worry, experimenting is good. Eventually, they will learn a skill with consistency maintained. Do not forget to reward your little one.

3. Ability to choose:

Parents need to understand that children with special needs, just like other kids, need chances to take risks and make decisions within the supervised boundaries. They may not get many such experiences to develop these skills otherwise, for instance, in schools.

Presenting the child with the choice at home and respecting their decisions, will make them appreciate and understand the importance of such risk – taking, both positive and negative, in a safe and controlled environment. This will, in turn, help your child understand that you appreciate the child’s effort to learn. These will also help in gaining confidence to take risks in the future. Let the child know that you are there to support them.

4. Have a specified seating space at home:

Children with special needs may have difficulty controlling impulses, as they are often unable to filter out the distractors. Having a specified seating space, especially for study or any work can remove challenges related to attention, that may interfere with their learning environment.

There may be different distractions for different kids, for some it may be loud noise or bright lights. Understanding these distractors may help you as a parent to assess the space that calms or soothes your child. Adding to this, I would also recommend having a healthy balance of structure and unstructured processes. On the structure side, as mentioned earlier, for instance, have a clear set of expectations, clearly defined routine and on the unstructured side, for instance, let the child change his /her work area while doing a task, which involves moving around the room.

Also, allow them space to be themselves. You do not have to pack their day from morning to night. They require their free time too. It could be just enjoying their favorite cartoon, fun drawing or simply doing nothing. Sometimes it is good to help them learn and feel bored. To keep them occupied throughout can leave them frustrated in days of boredom. It is always good to prepare children for all possibilities

5. Appreciate the effort:

Giving feedback reinforces the child’s effort. Simply saying “great job!” does not give the child the appropriate feedback. Instead, the statement should emphasize providing reasons for appreciation. Use descriptive phrases, such as, instead of a simple “thank you” you can say, “I appreciate your help in setting up the dinner table for me”. It is suggested you give them clarity on what you appreciate and what you do not. Your child imitates your behavior. This is a great way to teach them social skills. So do ensure you do it the right way and help them practice it too.

As parents, sometimes it will get tough to get through all meltdowns but through these little changes, this journey with your child will be much smoother. And remember, as a carer you need to take care of yourself first. Your child is a priority to you, but do not forget yourself in the journey. Enjoy your time doing your favorite activity. Take breaks in between whenever possible. Do not wait for an emotional outburst.

“It should not matter how slowly some children learn as long as we are encouraging them not to stop.” –  Robert John Meehan

Written by:

GAUTAMI KAPILA

Gautami has completed her Masters in Clinical Psychology. She is an International Affiliate – APA Educator Member – INACE (International Alliance of Counsellors and Educators). Trained in remedial education, life skills sessions for children with special needs and parent counselling. She also conducts workshops in schools to create awareness. ​Apart from this, I enjoy dance and cooking.

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