SEN home learning survival guide

SEN home learning survival guide
If your child has special educational needs, supporting their physical and emotional wellbeing and academic progress at home during the lockdown and school closures offers its own unique set of challenges. Suzy Rowland, author of S.E.N.D. In The Clowns: Essential Autism/ADHD Family Guide and founder of the H.A.P.P.Y. In School Project, shares her practical tips to help you establish the right home learning environment.
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At a time when the amount of control we have over most aspects of our daily life has radically diminished, your child needs your support and your strength more than ever.

Although children with an EHC (Education, Health and Care) plan are considered ‘vulnerable’ by the government and allowed to access education at school during the Covid-19 outbreak, you may need to keep your child at home for all or some of the time and establish a new routine of home learning and support. (Most children with SEN, who receive support for learning differences at school but do not have an EHC plan, are expected to stay at home. More extended coronavirus guidance is available for the parents of disabled children.)

My SEN home learning survival guide, which I hope will be particularly helpful for parents of kids with autism or ADHD, suggests different ways to tailor your home environment to your child’s learning needs and help them navigate an uncertain, challenging reality.

SEND at-home learning support: space and time

Acknowledge that the space you have available at home may not lend itself to home learning and think about way to adapt it. If the kitchen table is your learning station, consider sensory aspects that may affect concentration (cooking smells, phone calls, sticky tabletops, dishwasher sounds, etc.). If you need your child to move their work to make space to eat, provide folders or a box to keep their work organised so they’re not stressed about losing what they’ve done.

Loose, comfortable clothes are best for your home schooling "uniform", with no zips or buttons to irritate!

Use a supportive chair and make sure your child has a flat surface to write on.

Notice how they hold their pen and read any questions in the school work they are completing. Make a note of things they struggle with to discuss later with their Occupational Therapist (OT) or Speech and Language Therapist (SALT).

If they use noise-cancelling headphones at school, use them at home.

If they get bored quickly or fidget, combat natural distractibility and a shorter attention span by using highly visual learning aids: illustrated textbooks, coloured paper, pens and file dividers.

​Elastic bands, fiddle toys or special fabrics help anxious or hyperactive kids to release excess energy or calm themselves down.

Break learning sessions into 15/20-minute chunks with movement breaks.

​Check in frequently to keep your child on task. Some children are slow to get going – don’t stop them if they’re in the flow and always give lots of praise for concentrating and working with you. Use a clock or watch to help with their time management.

A fixed routine may not work for ADHD kids; use adaptative techniques to encourage your child to learn with you. Aim to make your home-learning session as dynamic as possible.

If your child is rigid about sticking to a timetable or anxious and demand avoidant, the stress of learning together can highlight differences in your personalities, resulting in one (or both of you!) losing your temper. Avoid head-to-head confrontations over how and when they learn – the key thing is for learning to happen!

Speak to your psychiatrist about the use of medication during the lockdown period, especially if they’ve been on it for school.

SEND at-home learning support: home inspiration

While specific home-learning resources for SEN learners will be very useful (look through ChatterPack's huge list of free speech and language, OT and SEND resources for families), don't forget you have lots of real-life, everyday resources available to you to offer bespoke educational experiences for your child.

  • Shopping lists, bills, menus and TV guides can help you teach budgeting and planning
  • Washing machines, fridges and dishwashers illustrate how energy is used
  • Introduce new reading material – newspapers, recipes, instructions for games – and listen to your child read, or you read to them
  • Listen to podcasts and audio books and choose some educational live streams to watch
  • Try out online learning experiences like virtual gallery visits or use Google Earth to go on a virtual holiday
  • Talk to your child about areas, places and countries you have visited and challenge them to investigate another part of the world (TheSchoolRun's geography Homework Gnomes could help) and pesent it to you
  • Mix up the digital learning and use other learning aids, too (books, flip cards, posters)
  • Make a family tree with photographs – highly visual and teaches the basics of history. 

SEND at-home learning support: dive into a specialist subject

Many autistic spectrum children have special interests – so why not use their favourite subject to engage them in home learning?

Expand their learning around their interest. They could write a story about why they like the subject, or research someone in their specialist field and their contribution. Record or film them talking about their special interest and (with their consent) share the recording with friends, family or teachers.

You could also talk to them about their autism or ADHD. There are loads of storybooks and information books featuring characters with autism to guide you in these conversations. 

SEND at-home learning support: work from school

Try to complete work sent from school. Teachers have taken time to set it and will hopefully get a chance to mark it. If you encounter resistance, offer a choice of the schoolwork or another piece of learning you can do together. If necessary, try again!

Use the same format the work was sent in to return it. Encourage your child to upload digital school assignments. If they’re not able to do this, you will need to help.

Trying to expand on assigned homework and covering a broad range of topics in your home learning means you are scooping up even more elements of the National Curriculum. The number of websites offering home-learning resources just keeps growing, so whatever your child's interest, chances are that relevant organisations will have produced some fantastic educational support materials.

SEND at-home learning support: managing emotions and moods

Children, especially those in Y6, Y11 and Y13, have experienced a shock.

Your child needs time to adjust.

Bear in mind that any sudden change increases their anxiety because their everyday routine is disrupted.

Improve their mood by building a new routine together, and make that your number one priority for the moment. Their wellbeing is paramount; if they’re settled and happy, your home learning has a higher chance of success.
Suzy Rowland is the author of S.E.N.D. In The Clowns: Essential Autism/ADHD Family Guide (July 2020, Hashtag Press, £12.99) and founder of the H.A.P.P.Y. In School Project.