Tag Archives: ESE

How to Include Homeschoolers with Special Needs

As homeschooling families grow in number, so does the number of families with kids who have special needs. Homeschool groups and co-ops have opened their hearts to include students who may struggle with academics, medical conditions, or behavior issues.

There are, however, sometimes growing pains when learning how to include those with special needs as not all activities will be easy for all kids to attend without stress. Ideally, all events will work for all kids. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to open our ears and minds so we can hear what families tell us their kids need so that everyone can have a great time while learning and socializing.

Listen to the Issues at Hand

Make sure to listen to those who have special needs. They and their families will be able to tell you what helps and what doesn’t.

If a child is scared of water, make sure to host events that do not include water at least part of the time. This way the child can have opportunities to socialize and learn without fear of something that triggers them being present during an event. If a child becomes aggressive when an event includes competitive games, find out what activities would go well for the child and consider incorporating these into the event.

Consider how best to handle a stressed-out child. Would the parent be present and help or is this a drop-off activity where the organizer may need to step in? If you do need to step in, how should you react in order to help the child calm down or feel less stressed-out? Don’t assume you know what to do. Have the parent and child let you know what is best before attending events.

Think Outside of the Box

Many families deal with food allergies. If a child is allergic to dairy, try to avoid that food during events. Often there are alternatives available that will work for most or all group members (soy ice cream, almond milk, coconut yogurt). Another option is to have events without food or drink involved. This may limit the length of time you will meet but will also allow a child to avoid allergens or foods that behavior more difficult for the child to manage.

Remember that food allergies present in different ways. Just because there are no outward signs doesn’t mean there is no allergy. Also, allergies vary in severity. One child may get a rash while another may pass out and yet another child may have gastrointestinal issues. All of these issues are serious, though some require immediate emergency care. Considering allergens when planning events is extremely important because of these issues.

Accept Others

You don’t have to fully understand why or how something affects another person to be compassionate and inclusive. Sometimes special needs of others may seem odd or different to you or your kids. That’s okay. What isn’t okay is ignoring what those with special needs say is an issue for them. If someone only likes small events, then they may choose to attend small events only. This needs to be accepted in your group even if you prefer people to attend every event. If touching bothers a child, then do not play games where touching is required (tag, red rover, dodge ball) but perhaps try other games such as “Mother May I”.

Also, recurring events you host may have to change a little bit to better include all members. You may have to forego the loud music at a party and use a lower volume in order to help children with sensory difficulties. You may need to allow parents to attend field trips or be an aid to their kids with special needs during co-op classes rather than choosing only a few parents to help during this type of event.

 

Everyone is Special

Because you care, you want to help. This is a huge support for families whose children have special needs. Your support and acceptance is important to the success of each and every family in your group. Your patience and effort will pay off. In the end, your group of friends will end up stronger and more enriched because you learned who to help one another.

4 Things My Child’s OT Needs to Know

 

Years ago, my family utilized occupational therapists (OTs) for one of my children. At that time, we had fantastic luck as both of the therapists our insurance covered were wonderful, patient, and good listeners. I assumed all OTs were trained to be this way.

Recently we began OT for another of my children. It has been extremely difficult to find someone who can accept the limitations and stressors my sweet kid has right now. I had no idea that others struggled with this issue, too, until I asked in a local mom group. Turns out that many, many people have difficulty finding quality OTs as well as quality PTs (physical therapists) in my area. What I am hearing from others is that the therapists know their field quite well. However, many do not listen to clients and families, so they are unable to learn how best to serve the client.

Based on my experiences and those replayed to me via chat and in-person, I ended up writing this post. I hope it helps give perspective. Families do want to work with therapists, but parents and children become frustrated after going down the list and trying multiple providers, then having OTs or PTs repeatedly fail their kids.

Noncompliance does not equal a naughty child.

When a child has special needs, your family will come into contact with many healthcare professionals who want to help. They are often experts in their field and have an incredible amount of experience. Ready for the “but”?

They may be experts on a topic or diagnosis, BUT they are NOT experts on your child. One huge issue that comes up time and again is the lack of understanding of anxiety. Many children deal with mutism, or selective mutism, due to their anxiety because they literally cannot make themselves speak when extremely anxious or having a panic attack. Another term to know about is Pathological Demand Avoidance (also known as PDA). PDA is, in essence, anxiety. But this kind of anxiety is extreme. A child may lash out, become mute, ignore, or even run away from a situation that gives them anxiety. Many children, mine included, explain this feeling as a growing pressure that escalates with demands for compliance. This creates an extreme amount of stress and anxiety.

The problem is that these behaviors look like naughty behavior when they are actually behavior borne from anxiety attacks and panic. Sadly, it may be difficult to tell the difference between naughty behavior and panicked behavior when they present so similarly and both mean noncompliance and sometimes even unsafe behaviors. The problem that many families run into is that medical professionals, therapists, and teachers often do not realize that what they assume to be a naughty child is actually a child struggling with anxiety or PDA. It is important for therapists and other professionals to  listen to parents, children. Don’t take these behaviors personally or as a refusal to cooperate. Instead, take time to grow a rapport with the child, then things go much more smoothly.

SPD, PDA, and anxiety may prevent touch.

Sometimes touch is seen as part of a physical or occupational therapy session. This is understandable as a therapist may need to show or help a client do something. Some therapists are very thoughtful of boundaries, but others are so focused on meeting goals as fast as possible, that they forget that the clients have boundaries which should be respected in order to build a positive bond.

Children who are sensory defensive will not likely want to be touched. They may have a family member who they tolerate if they need help with writing or buttoning pants. Understanding this is a huge help and knowing when not to push an activity can help build bonds between therapist and client. In short, consent matters. As my child said after a negative therapist appointment, “I am the boss of my own body, not you or anyone else.”

There is plenty of time.

Much of therapy is goal-driven in that there is an evaluation, goals are written, then insurance companies and parents often want to see that progress is being made toward those goals. During the yearly re-evaluation, progress is supposed to be shown. The idea is that, eventually, the client will no longer need the occupational or physical therapy service. However, this is not realistic in all cases.

The problem is that a goal-driven therapy model often does not respect the pace at which a child with special needs can handle demands, changes, and activities. The adults may forget that rapport takes time and working as a team means getting to know the client even if it takes months or years. One of my children recently said, “I don’t think the OT knows me at all. If she did, she’d know not to put pressure on me. It makes me have anxiety and then I can’t talk.” A child having an anxiety attack because a therapist did not take the time to find out that child’s triggers is not going to be successful with the child. Patience is key here. Forcing things won’t help. Sometimes slow and steady is the way to win the race. Yes, even if moving at a tortoise’s pace.

My family will stick up for me.

There is a saying, I’m not sure who coined it, that says something like, “A parent is the expert regarding their child.” I agree. Loving, invested parents ARE experts. They are experts in the child’s special needs, likes, dislikes, and behavior patterns.

If a parent is telling you not to do something, then immediately stop. The same goes for the child telling you no with either behaviors or words. Just as a parent is an expert, so is the child. Your client may have difficulty explaining the issues but learning those behavior patterns and understanding how a child reacts when upset versus happy is a HUGELY important skill for anyone working with clients who are children or who are nonverbal. “Thanks, mom!” That’s what my child said after I had to fire a therapist who thought they knew better than my child and I regarding the child’s needs. The therapist knew us all of 90 minutes total, yet thought they knew more about the child’s needs and caused a panic attack and subsequent regression in the child.

Here’s the thing. An OT or PT may know a diagnosis. They may be experts in their field. That’s wonderful! But they are not experts on each client until they take the time to get to know the client.

This is an ongoing process and forcing a relationship, creating an adversarial process by being authoritarian, and pushing things that trigger a client are never going to help establish rapport. Parents will tell you to stop. Parents will fire you if they see you refuse to listen. The client’s family WILL stick up for them. We are, after all, their best advocates and don’t take that job lightly.

 

As one of my children recently said, “I want them to understand me. Being pushy doesn’t help.” As adults we may get wrapped up in goals and our agenda. But that’s not important. It is important to support clients and clients’ families by listening, observing, and putting the client first. Work as a team to find out how to help. Make goals together. Listen, observe, and use patience. As I mentioned above, slow and steady wins the race.

 

About the Author

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed.; Photograph by Alexandra Islas

Several years ago I left my teaching job to spend more time with my children. I was sad to go, but am thankful for the experiences that classroom teaching provided. I now provide Florida homeschool evaluations and homeschool help in the form of consultations, transcript writing,  and tutoring. My educational experiences paired with real world experience give me a unique perspective when working with families to achieve their behavioral and educational goals.
I specialize in tutoring and homeschool help for students living with special needs and am an approved Gardiner Scholarship tutor. I focus on early childhood education, elementary education, reading and literacy, study skills, thematic units, and social skills. I look forward to putting my teaching experience and master’s degree to work for you. Please contact me with questions or to request services.

Phone Number : 407-712-4368

Email : lissa_kaye54@yahoo.com

7 Reasons Homeschooling Works and One Reason It’s Tough

 

  1. Flexibility

When a family decides to homeschool, they get to set their schedule. Does mom work the night shift? No problem, homeschool in the morning or afternoon. Does dad have a business trip during the week and you are invited? Awesome! No absentee notes to write and have rejected by the principal because they aren’t sick notes.

Head on out to Boston, New York, or nearly anywhere you’re your wallet can afford. You may even learn something about history, cultures, transportation, architecture, or art while out and about.

  1. Family Time

Because your schedule is not set by the local school, you can decide when you have classes, trips, chores, movie night, and other events. It can be easier to schedule family time when it is convenient rather than in the time left over after dealing with schedules other entities give you.

  1. Developmentally Appropriate Lessons

I hear complaints every day. Either schools are asking students to do things they are not yet ready to understand or schools are giving kids busy work they have already mastered. We can’t blame schools and teachers too much for this. They are stuck. They have many kids and a curriculum which says it is for all, but really has expectations that all students will master the same benchmarks. Sure, teachers scaffold, remediate, and try their hardest, but some kids are ahead or behind the given benchmarks due to their developmental stage.

This means that many come away from public school frustrated because this learning model does not meet everyone’s needs. Homeschool families can choose to work at a student’s developmental stage and build from there. With one on one or small group lessons, such as in a co-op, this is an easier task than in a classroom with 18 or more students.

  1. Time for ESE

There are some fantastic ESE programs at brick and mortar schools for those living with special needs. However, there are also advantages to one on one and small group instruction provided in a home education setting. Students who are easily distracted, are too shy to speak up when they do not understand, or who get lost in the shuffle when there is a large group will benefit from having more attention and help. There is no comparison between an 18 to 1 ratio and a 1 to 1 ratio. There just isn’t. Keep in mind that with less time spent waiting for his turn, your child will have more time to attend therapist and doctor appointments, if needed.

  1. Extracurriculars

Is your child a budding actress? Does your child have an aptitude for baseball? Less time in class waiting on others to complete work or have questions answered equals more time for extracurriculars. Sometimes your local school also allows homeschooled students to join their teams so keep this in mind, too.

  1. Friends

In brick and mortar schools you meet the people who are in class with you. Hopefully, you make friends with them and see each other outside of class, too. After school time is limited, though. During school, your job is to work on academics. You don’t get to practice social skills, navigating friendships with ample time to put towards solving problems.

Homeschool students often have friends of different ages and socioeconomic statutes. They also tend to have more time to devote to getting together, volunteering, and working on social skills such as problem solving

  1. Pursue childhood

Seems like we see articles about recapturing childhood and getting rid of screen-time. One great way to do this is to give your child the gift of time to play and exercise without imposing rules about how they should do this, though safety rules may be needed in some cases. Sure, those who attend brick and mortar schools can do this on weekends and after school. That can definitely work. Homeschoolers can do this, too. They can suspend lessons to enjoy a beautiful day attend a field trip outdoors, or explore a local town.

When It Gets Tough

Homeschooling isn’t without it’s challenges. Personality conflicts may occur between siblings or parent and child. Plus, the time and commitment needed to plan and stick with this schooling model can be overwhelming in some cases. Thankfully, there are online and local support groups which often help for free. There are also bloggers, consultants, and local classes in most areas. The idea is to take a team approach rather than going it alone. Plus, adjusting lessons and activities when you see a need to do so can be beneficial and lower stress.

 

If you would like to discuss homeschool or unschool options, feel free to reach out to me. I receive questions every day and am happy to help. Should you need a more in-depth meeting, reading coaching or lesson writing services, please let me know. I am happy to help. Allow me to put my experience to work for you!

 

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed.
Photograph by Alexandra Islas

 

 

Misbehavior During Tutoring Sessions? Perfectly Normal.

What To Expect During Tutoring Sessions

I work with many families as a tutor. Most of my clients sought out a tutor due to a special need or because they want assistance in home educating their child. I know that each child is different and each child will have their own strengths and things they are still working to achieve. I want to stress that parents may feel anxiety, but their child’s behaviors and current achievements may be similar to what everyone else is doing, too.

When Your Child Says “NO!”

Your child will probably say no or refuse to participate at one point or another. They may do this often, or rarely. This may be due to illness, a bad mood, or fear of getting it wrong. Also, some children like to control the activities because they feel less anxiety when in control. Don’t worry. We will work on this. We will establish a routine and your child will feel more comfortable with me helping guide activities which are new.

You may see that I change topics or activities if a child is shutting down. This is one way to change the child’s mood and help encourage participation. If we can learn the same information another way, I may try that. I may also come back to the lesson or activity later in the session or later in the year. I won’t skip a topic forever, but I will work with your child to find fun ways to learn the information. We are a team.

When Your Child Is Distracted

Everybody gets distracted. Whether I tutor at your home or a public place, like a library, there will be distractions. Your child may also lose interest. It is rare for anyone, even adults, to have an attention span for long tasks. I will try to keep tasks short and full of academic information. If your child has difficulty with the length of an activity, I may break it up into parts. We may take a break to sing a song, color, or stretch.

I usually set a timer so we use our time to the fullest. This may mean I set a 2-5 minute timer for the break, too. Don’t worry, though, your child is learning about study skills and how to break large or frustrating tasks down into smaller portions. This helps lessen the chance of refusal to participate and enables the child to make similar choices on their own, in the future.

When Your Child Throws Or Hits

There is very little I haven’t seen. I worked as a classroom teacher, have children of my own, and worked in childcare prior to earning my teaching certificate and master’s degree. I have had kids hit, throw things at, bite, yell, and curse at me from time to time. When your child throws or isn’t gentle when handing me a paper or bottle of glue, don’t worry. I will gently, yet firmly, correct the behavior and you are welcome to do the same.

Sometimes kids push, hit, or throw because they feel anxiety over a new situation or difficult subject.

There is a lot of practice in early childhood education. I constantly must remind children to be kind, gentle, and to use words or show me the item they do not have words to explain, yet. I am not offended by your child’s behavior and, depending on your child’s developmental stage, it may be that throwing is part of learning about emotions, self-control, choices, and motor skills.

When Your Child Has Difficulty With Motor Skills

Fine motor skills refer to movements used to cut with scissors, write with a pencil, and other small muscle motions. Gross motor skills refer to large movements and control of the muscles that allow these movements. Sometimes children have low muscle tone or have a special need which makes them less likely to have control of muscles. When this happens, they may feel pain or frustration when participating in activities such as jumping, climbing, cutting, or writing. Your child may be resistant to these activities to avoid a feeling of failure or potential pain of an activity.

I often break tasks children find challenging into multiple steps with breaks in between. Also, sometimes is becomes necessary to use tablets or computers with keyboards to help students who struggle with writing. If they get stuck on the letter formation part of the task, they will have difficulty with expressing themselves through written word. Another important point is that you can strengthen muscle tone by doing activities that are not writing. I may use tasks which include tweezers and sorting, clay, or similar activities to help with fine motor skills. Sometimes doing something that doesn’t seem academic helps a child feel less anxiety and more interested, though there are still positive outcomes when using the activity.

When Your Child Has Limited Expressive Language Or Is Nonverbal

When I taught in public schools, the common ideal was that even if a child had a special need, the teacher had to find a way to teach and assess understanding. This often meant non-traditional activities, extra lesson planning time, and alternative assessments. One issue that often required a slight deviation from typical lessons and assessments was when a student had limited expressive language, or a limited ability to verbally explain their thoughts.

I encourage parents to work with me so I understand what milestones a child has reached as well as what skills are still being honed. This way, I have a better understanding of what can be done during lessons and assessments to accurately gauge student learning. I am not a big fan of paper and pencil testing, but for those who have limited language, a written test may work best. For younger students, tutor/teacher and parent observation may be best. While these are not the only two options, they give an idea of what can be done to adjust for a student’s needs.

When Your Child Has Limited Receptive Language

Receptive language refers to the ability to understand oral information given in your first language. (English language learners who have a different first language would not be considered low on receptive language for the purposes of diagnosing a special need and may be given different assessments than those for whom English is a first language.) When a student has a low receptive language score, I consider other potential issues such as shyness or refusal to cooperate with the assessor. Sometimes the scores in tests such as these are accurate, sometimes they are not. I often use very basic, one-step instructions for all tasks, whether complicated or not. In addition, repetition is great for all kids, but is imperative for those with low receptive language scores. Predictability and easy to follow processes help.

What Does All This Mean?

There are many other potential issues which may come up during tutoring. Every student is different and deserves attention, patience, and positivity. This may mean that we use activity cards, a specific procedure or order to lessons, or take breaks to get up and move. Don’t worry. The behaviors and choices of your child are most likely something I have seen multiple times.

My job is to work with you and your child.

All I ask is that you work with me, express any concerns or tips you have, and advocate for your child as you already so perfectly do every day. Don’t worry about your child behaving in a way I will dislike. I won’t be offended. I promise. We are a team and it’s all normal.

 

If you would like information about tutoring, homeschool and unschool evaluations, a consultation to discuss mapping out your homeschool year or curriculum writing services, please contact me here or at 407-712-4368. Let me put my experience to work for you!

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed.
Photograph by Alexandra Islas

Step Outside of “The Bubble” – Inclusion Matters

I worked for many years as a public school teacher. I always worked in Title I schools which means that they had a high free and reduced lunch rate indicating a low-income level for a majority of the students who attended the schools. With this label often came behavior issues and other concerns. The job wasn’t easy, but was important. My friends and I would often talk about the schools, especially private or charter, who had this type of socio-economic issue less often. We considered them to be in The Bubble. Some schools were more of an eclectic mixture of people, backgrounds, and income levels. Others were more closed off and likely didn’t even realize it.

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Some of my former colleagues moved to a school in a lovely neighborhood filled with high income housing and 3 to 4 figure incomes. They remarked about how easy it was to get supplies, volunteers, and other resources. They also noted how little the families knew about those with special needs or who lived within a low-income. It was like two different worlds to these colleagues.

I noticed this, too. Sometimes people in The Bubble don’t realize that special needs or not having what you need in life due to income level is a real-life situation every day for many people. I don’t mean to categorize everyone who has plenty of money or a nice home. However, when this cycle of parents in The Bubble raising children in The Bubble continues over and over, it is easy to lose touch with the many, many people not in The Bubble who deal every day with these issues. It’s one of those “you don’t know that you don’t know” situations in many cases.

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The Bubble is about more than the key to a nice home. The Bubble is a place of privilege, away from the stress of other people’s life experiences.

What is “The Bubble”?

The Bubble is a place where privileged folks hang out. It’s more about a comfort zone and state of mind than a place. In The Bubble, you won’t find many people who have a low income or special needs. The Bubble is where you are safe from the unpleasant parts of the human experience. Sounds fabulous, right? The Bubble is a calm, relaxing, lovely place to be. You don’t have to step out of your comfort zone too often and you certainly don’t have to deal with the things that make you feel uncomfortable or sad on a regular basis.

What’s so bad about that?

Here’s the problem. The Bubble isn’t the real world. The Bubble hinders our emotional development and the development of our children. When children attend schools and after school activities in The Bubble, they don’t usually have regular contact with those who have profound differences such as those who are who are living with special needs.

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How will children learn empathy if they don’t see those who struggle and learn to help?

Children need to see differences. They need to work on problem-solving and helping those on their team or in their classroom. Sometimes this may mean physically helping a child who has limited mobility, but other times it means being a cheerleader who urges a friend to try a task until she succeeds. This builds character and empathy.

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What if a child is profoundly disabled?

Though a child may need a carer with them, the child should still be seen and allowed to interact. The Bubble prevents this. By segregating those who are able and those with special needs, we cheat our children out of the chance to help others and emotionally support one another.

But she is noisy and he is messy!

Some children make loud noises or messes due to their special needs. This should not hinder them from typical classrooms or a variety of extracurricular opportunities. The children in The Bubble NEED to see, learn about, and learn to support students with special needs just the same as they would those in The Bubble. Noise, messes, and other differences are no reason to keep someone out of a classroom, school, or extracurricular program.

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Those with special needs that affect attention and distraction will have an opportunity to work on using strategies they have learned to focus and, of course, teachers can give them a quieter space if needed in most cases, too, though this may depend on the school or program facility and staffing specifics.

Real life can be distracting. Our children need to learn that they can ignore these distractions when necessary and help when necessary.

What about the students who are unsafe?

Some students make unsafe choices. This may mean they have a carer with them to help when they become agitated. If a safety plan is in place, and followed, students who are working on making safe, well-thought out, kind choices should absolutely be present in classrooms, even in The Bubble. This allows the student with special needs to learn from those who are typically developing and for those who are considered able and neurotypical to practice setting boundaries, following through on rules and routines, and practice empathy.

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Children grow up to be adults and continue previous cycles.

The Bubble is present in many of our communities. It has perks. However, the downside of The Bubble is that many are not included and children in The Bubble don’t know much about the real world or how to adjust to new and different things. These children grow up to be adults who continue The Bubble by not including others and placing a stigma on those who are different. They may even throw a tantrum when things are not perfect. This sense of entitlement is unacceptable in the real world and hinders the acceptance of those with special needs.

Do we really want to continue this cycle, or is it time to end The Bubble?

The Bubble sounds great. Who wouldn’t like a break from real life? But, we have a responsibility to raise our children outside of The Bubble so they learn empathy, that differences are okay if everyone is safe, and how to handle new or different situations which may slow their day down a bit.