As the daughter of a special education teacher and a special education teacher myself, I understand the barriers many kids who qualify for special education and their parents face at school. When I was a resource room teacher, it felt like there was never enough time to get to know my students. In this post, I want to offer tips for parents of children who learn and think differently.
As a parent, you know your child the best. You play a crucial role in their academic, social, and emotional success. Here are five steps you can take at home to ensure your child feels empowered on their journey of learning:
- Learn about neurodiversity.
The word “neurodiversity” refers to the diversity of human brains. The neurodiversity paradigm supports kids with learning and attention differences (e.g., ADHD and autism) to view the way their brains think and experience the world as completely natural. It also supports them to view their challenges as something they need support in only because society is designed for neurotypical (average) brains. Check out the Neurodivergent Narwhals created by autism activist Lei Wiley Mydske for more information.
- Use universal design for learning.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that supports each child’s unique way of learning. When we use these principles, we offer kids information in multiple ways (e.g., text, audio, video, artwork), let kids show us what they know in multiple ways (e.g., create a poster, design a blog, or think up a skit), and find multiple ways to engage kids in learning (e.g., project-based learning or community-based learning). Learning about UDL and incorporating parts of this framework at home will help get your child excited about learning. Check out this article on Understood.org for more information about UDL and how to use it at home.
- Tap into your child’s interests.
When we provide children with opportunities to work on projects they really care about, they are eager to engage and take challenges head on. Examples include: making their own kite, inventing their own sport, creating puppets, designing a home for their dolls with recycled items, creating a habitat for snails, or designing a boat that floats in water. As your child dives deep into their passions, they will explore concepts of math and science as they measure, test out their designs, and work with 3D figures. Reading and writing can easily be reinforced during these activities by helping your child create a script for their puppets, having your child label the items in their doll house, or assisting your child as they research a snail’s habitat and teach others what they’ve learned through creating a video or vlog (video blog). Check Education.com’s vast library of hands-on activities for inspiration.
- Be mindful of your words.
Children listen to everything. When we say things like, “Harper is always throwing tantrums” or “Math is hard for Danny,” our children internalize these messages. Use a strength-based approach when discussing your child and the supports they need to live their best lives. For example, we can rephrase to focus on the positive by saying, “Harper has really big feelings sometimes. We use a calm down bottle, deep breathing, and quiet time to help her feel better” or “Danny, I want you to feel as passionate about math class as you do when you are helping me measure ingredients to cook dinner. How can I support you and help you with your homework?” Rephrasing our words to focus on what children need to succeed sends a powerful message that we believe in them.
- Choose books about changemakers with disabilities.
All kids need to see themselves represented in their classroom libraries and the books they read at home. Seek out books like:
- A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz: Written by Alan himself, this is one of my favorite books. As a child, Alan was placed in special education classes because of his stutter. He went on to create Panthera Corporation, a nonprofit conservation organization devoted to protecting the world’s 40 wild cat species.
- Frida by Jonah Winter: Read this book to discover how Frida Kahlo turned the challenges of her life into art.
- The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca: This book explores the life of Dr. Temple Grandin, an autistic woman whose mind allowed her to connect with animals in a special way, helping her invent groundbreaking improvements for farms around the world!
- Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin: Some children are highly sensitive to sounds, or may have sensory processing disorder. This book shows how Charlotte learns and practices mindful breathing on her own and experiences the beauty of silence. If you are a parent, teacher, or caretaker of a highly active or sensitive child, you need to read this book!
Taking these five steps will help you create an inclusive environment at home where your child feels supported and can truly tap into their passions. The sky’s the limit!
Resources to Help You Support Your Child:
By April Brown (M.Ed), writer and education consultant based in Austin, TX.