As a parent, what is my role, and what can I do to best support my child’s education?
Page 7: What If My Child Has a Disability?
As part of their individualized education, students with disabilities generally receive a range of educational services and supports provided by a variety of professionals. These often include instruction from both general and special education teachers, supports from related service providers (speech-language therapists, physical therapists), and more.
If you have a child with a disability, you probably have a lot of questions about this new academic year. These might include:
- What will my child’s special education services look like this year?
- Is my child’s IEP still appropriate?
- How will my child receive related services, like speech-language or physical therapies?
- How will my child keep up in general education classes?
- What can I do to support my child’s learning?
If you’ve asked yourself these questions, trust us, you’re not alone. Many parents of kids with disabilities are asking similar ones right now. But how do you find out the answers? Let’s start with your child’s school.*
Stay in Contact with Your Child’s School
For Your Information
Most schools didn’t have much time to plan for at-home learning before they shut down. However, school personnel spent the summer figuring out ways that they could safely provide services and supports. Some of the options being implemented now include using technology to:
- Provide online or virtual instruction
- Provide related services through teletherapy
- Hold virtual IEP meetings
Schools are trying to keep in touch with parents to keep everyone informed of the latest developments. As you can imagine, this can be tricky. Some schools have started with face-to-face or blended learning, only to shut down after a short time due to COVID-19 infections.
To prepare for the upcoming school year, get information on your district’s back-to-school plan. Be aware that these plans may continue to change over time.
To keep up with the latest updates:
- Make sure the school has your current contact information and that you are on any school communication lists (automated phone calls, mailings, email).
- Let the teachers, paraprofessionals, related service providers, and others who deliver services or supports to your child know how you want to be contacted (phone call, email, text) and the best time to reach you (mornings, afternoons).
- Contact the teacher or school if you haven’t heard from them or if you have questions.
Support Your Child’s Individualized Learning Needs at Home
As with any parent who has a child learning at home, there are things you can do.
- Get your child ready to learn. For information on getting your child ready to learn, see Page 2.
- Find out what your child should be learning. For more on how to find out what your child should be learning, see Page 3.
- Balance learning with social and emotional needs. For more on how to support your child socially and emotionally, see Page 6.
Keep in Mind
You are not expected to replace your child’s teacher or therapists. Your role is to support your child’s learning. Do what you can and let the rest go!
As your child participates in distance learning—either online or using packets sent to your home from school—her disability may create some challenges. At school, your child has accommodations—changes to instruction or the environment—that are meant to address such challenges.
Some of these same accommodations will work at home. But how can you find out what they are?
Check your child’s IEP or 504 plan. This document lists any accommodations used at school.
Ask the teacher(s). This includes both the special education and general education teachers.
Ask your child. He might be able to explain what the teacher does at school that is helpful.
Once you identify the accommodations your child uses at school, you can figure out which ones you need to use as learning supports at home.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the common challenges that your child with a disability might face while learning at home. Click on each one for examples of learning supports that might be helpful.
What Are Parents Saying?
In My 5 Parenting Rules for Letting Go and Getting Through the Coronavirus Crisis, a mother with two sons with learning and attention issues shares her experience with distance learning.
Many students, not just those with attention issues, are reporting that it is hard to pay attention while learning at home. To support your child, you can:
Eliminate distractions. Move him away from the window, turn off the TV, and clear the counter, table, or desk.
Break an assignment into smaller pieces. Ask her to read two or three paragraphs at a time instead of a complete chapter. Let her do four math problems then take a brief break before doing more.
Build in frequent breaks. Even a short 90-second break can help your child recharge and reset.
Adjust the length of time. Divide a long learning session into smaller pieces. If your child is supposed to read for 30 minutes, let him take a break every 10 minutes—it doesn’t have to be completed all at once.
Change the schedule. If your child has more trouble focusing in the afternoon, schedule harder subjects in the morning and easier activities in the afternoon. Keep in mind that older kids might be able to focus better in the afternoon.
Reading is a challenge for many children with disabilities. If your child struggles with reading, you can:
Ask a family member for help. You might be used to helping your child with her reading. If you are busy, other family members can read assignments, books, or instructions to your child. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
For online learning:
Turn on the accessibility features on your tablet, computer, or phone. Many devices have built-in text-to-speech. For most devices, you can turn these on in “Preferences” or “Settings.”
Turn on the speech functions in the apps that your child uses. Some apps, like Microsoft Word ™, now have setting options to read highlighted text out loud.
Sign up for a Bookshare account. Bookshare provides free digital access to thousands of books in formats like audio, audio + highlighted text, braille, and large font. Bookshare is free for students with a qualifying reading barrier, including dyslexia, blindness, low vision, and cerebral palsy. Before signing up, check to see if your child already has an account through her school.
For Your Information
Use the links below to access more information on accessibility.
What Accessibility Settings On My Devices Can Help My Child With Special Needs? This short article provides information on accessibility features that could be helpful for children with different types of disabilities.
Android Accessibility Overview. This support site provides instructions on how to turn on various accessibility features to customize your Android devices.
Apple Accessibility Support. This site provides directions to select and access the various accessibility features available on Apple devices.
Google Accessibility. This site describes accessibility features for dozens of Google products and apps.
Microsoft Word Accessibility. This site explains how to turn on and use the accessibility features in Microsoft Word.
For Your Information
In 7 Tips to Help Kids Understand What They Read, you’ll find more ideas about how to help your child read.
Whether you’re reading with your child or she is working independently, there are some simple things you can do to help her make sense of what she’s read.
Connect to what she knows. Find ways to link her past experiences to what she’s reading about now. These connections will help her make sense of what she’s reading.
Ask questions about what she read. Vary the types of questions you ask:
- Factual. “What was the dog barking at?”
- Make connections between events or information. “Why was Beth the only sister who got sick?”
- Make predictions. “The two countries could not agree to peace terms. What do you think will happen next?”
Try a reading activity. There are several very good activities listed on Page 4 that can help your child improve her understanding.
Some kids might have trouble following directions because they can’t remember what they’ve been asked to do. There might be too many steps for them to remember. Others have difficulty following written instructions. Maybe they have trouble making sense of what they just heard because they process information slowly. Here are some things you can do to help.
For Your Information
To learn more about kids who have trouble following directions, read:
For written directions. Ask your child to:
- Read the directions and tell you what they mean.
- Identify important words in the directions.
- Make a checklist of what to do.
For real-time virtual classes. Show your child how to:
- Unmute the microphone and ask the teacher to repeat instructions she might not have understood the first time.
- Use the “chat” feature to type a question to the teacher.
- “Chat” with a classmate for help. Before the class, ask the teacher whether this is OK and also ask a classmate so that he or she is ready to help.
- Record the lesson and play it back later.
For pre-recorded classes or video lessons. Your child can:
- Rewind and play back the instructions as many times as needed.
- Hit “pause” and write down the instructions.
Because schools and districts closed down so quickly, many of them did not have time to make certain their virtual platforms were accessible for children with disabilities. The good news is that most school districts are aware of this issue and are working hard to fix it.
The accommodations that some children receive at school can be changed a bit and used for learning at home. Consider a child who has an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. As long as she can see her interpreter in a virtual environment, this accommodation can still work just fine. The teacher, family, and interpreter should plan and test ahead of time to work out any problems that might occur.
Sometimes you might need to use a different accommodation. In the case of the child in the example above, she might need captions when a live video feed is not an option.
If your child’s school is using accessibility features that are not working for your child, let the school know. Be specific. Explain why the feature is not working and how it could be improved. If something doesn’t work, don’t give up. Sometimes it only takes a small change to get things on the right track. Other times you might need to try something else.
The centers below are funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. These centers all have new resources to support the learning of children with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic that might be helpful:
- National Center on Accessible Educational Materials
- National Center on Deaf-Blindness
- National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes. Note: Although the center focuses on the transition from high school to life beyond, it has many resources that are also relevant for younger students learning at home.
Make changes as needed. At the end of each week, think about what worked and what didn’t. Ask your child whether things are working. If something didn’t work, it’s OK to try something else. It may take several tries to figure everything out. That’s normal.
Dig deeper into some of the topics discussed on this page by visiting the Websites for the organizations and agencies below.
Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR). This center offers many types of supports for the parents of children with disabilities. It has a library of online resources developed just for parents, including short Webinars on topics like “Stay At Home Order Got You Down?” and “Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Beyond – Using Social Media for Peer-to-Peer Engagement.”
Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). This center has a wealth of information to help you encourage and support your child’s positive behavior. Of particular relevance right now are:
- 4 Resources to Support Students During the Pandemic
- Supporting Families With PBIS At Home, developed in collaboration with CPIR (see above)
National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL). If your child has a literacy-related disability, this center is a good source of information. It offers all kinds of tips and short videos that show you how to help your child with reading, writing, and more.
Understood. This organization’s mission is to support parents of children who learn and think differently. It has lots of resources related to the current COVID-19 crisis, including:
U.S. Department of Education’s COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel. This site has information from the Centers for Disease Control and suggestions for at-home activities from various federal agencies. It also contains guidance documents like:
*At this time there are many, yet unanswered policy and legal questions related to the provision of services (Free Appropriate Public Education) for children with disabilities during school closures. It is beyond the scope of this resources to attempt to answer these questions and the information contained within does not provide legal advice. As relevant answers emerge, this resource will be updated.