Helping Kids with Learning Disabilities Navigate Online School

Virtual school can be difficult for parents and students, especially when kids need extra support. Here are some tips to help students with learning disabilities tackle online school.

Woman helping a girl with Down's syndrome on a laptop

For many parents, online school has been one of the toughest parts of living during the global pandemic. Now, imagine you have twins who are 4-years-old and have special needs.

Danielle Bork, a Grosse Pointe parent, has been navigating online early learning with her twins, both diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, since March. Her twins have different teachers and paraprofessionals, so she meets with a total of six educators from Barnes Early Childhood Center.

It’s a lot to manage, but Bork says that advocating for your kids, especially if they have different needs, is paramount.

“The most important thing is that you know your kid,” she says. “They know your kid at school but you know your kid at home, so help them help your kid as much as possible — don’t be afraid to overshare.”

It’s ultimately up to the parents to bridge the gap and provide teachers with the knowledge to help your kids thrive.

“Everyone wants to see these kids succeed but they don’t know how to help you if they don’t know all the facts,” she adds.

Tips for online school

Stefanie Hayes, the director of student services at Grosse Pointe Schools, says using the resources the district provides is the first step for student success. 

Many school districts, Grosse Pointe included, have created documents to help teachers and parents better navigate online learning. Some include specifics like how teachers can create a sense of belonging for students as well as screen time recommendations for different ages. 

“The Grosse Pointe learning guide is a staff- and parent-document so that everyone is working in an aligned way, although we’re the most disconnected we’ve ever been,” Hayes says.

The second step is creating a routine and sticking to it, says Hayes. Having a schedule and supervision for learning at home is important too, as is working in age-appropriate brain breaks.

“Little ones aren’t meant to be looking at the screen for eight hours a day,” she adds.

Creating a routine has played a huge role in the success of Bork’s twins, Gabriel and Arlo. They each use the same computer in the same room and sit in the same chair every school day to create consistency.

“For their age group and attention span, we only use our computer to talk because that’s ‘school,’ and they know they have to sit in their dinner chairs because that’s ‘school,'” she says.

But at the end of the day, Bork says she’s not above one of the oldest tricks in the book: bribes.

“I should have stock in the Charms Mini Pops right now,” she says. “I say, ‘If our butt stays in the seat and our eyes are watching and our ears are listening, then we can have a treat’— first school, then play or treat.”

“Having a tangible end reward has been really helpful,” she adds.

Working with teachers to meet your child’s needs

Just as teachers have different methods in the classroom, they have different methods for online learning.

“Arlo’s teacher deals with more lower level learners, including nonverbal learners, so she sticks with visual learning and paper, more tangible things on her end and shows us through the computer,” she says.

On the other hand, Gabe’s teacher uses school platforms and the students in that class respond to the instant gratification created by that style of teaching.

“With Gabe, when we do virtual learning, I’ve found the best way is to have both my laptop and an iPad open so that we can have the video going and that any links that we’re going to need, too.”

Since Bork’s children see a total of six educators, she adds that it’s important to have open communication between the caregiver and educators.

“The teachers are doing the best they can, and they can do only so much through the screen, so I just try to be a teacher’s helper or advocate for my kid,” she explains. “We’re all virtual learning not just the little ones!”

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