The pandemic lockdowns have thrown life out-of-gear for the last 2.5 years and led to a shift in the way people work in most of the professions. This shift has not only restricted people to their homes but also brought with it multiple other challenges to adapt to. One of the most vulnerable groups that got affected is children with special needs. Special educators, mental health professionals and therapists had to adopt the online mode of work to ensure the safety of children and themselves. So, how does this new model look like? Based on my experience and research, I would like to share with you a few must-haves prerequisites to make learning more fruitful. The Individualized education plans which are tailor-made for these children needs to be further explored to optimize learning in an online mode. Here is how we can do it:
One of the cornerstones of making the transition smoother is forming a close collaboration with the families and caregivers of the children. Listen to the families of the children, on what are their needs and apprehensions. As a therapist or special educator, it is equally important that we have a detailed discussion with the families on the best possible way they would be able to support the child. It is important to
● check on their availability( both parents)
● the duration of their availability?
● The resources at home can be used for learning?
● Financial bandwidth to enhance the resources, if required
Formulating an individualized education plan with these checkers in mind makes the journey of learning from home easier and effective for the child. It’s essential for the therapists to be flexible with the needs of the parents and communicate their availability to reach out to them when required.
Once the therapist gets a clear picture of the home environment and the family’s availability, revisiting the IEP goals is paramount to match the needs of the children. This allows the therapist to ensure the learning progress becomes achievable in their new environment. Therapists may also break down the goals into smaller chunks, such that the family is also able to support the child in managing them. Also, communicating to the family on what are some of the goals that can be achieved through home-based and online learning is very critical, as families can avoid setting higher benchmarks for their children.
One thing I do not miss is asking for feedback from the parents on the goals and discussing how they can be made easier or better. A feedback-driven approach sets a defined path for the therapist to accommodate newer goals or rework the existing ones.
Choosing the right technology and making it accessible for the children is the key to hassle-free learning via online mode. Using platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Kahoot,Avaaz, K5 Learning, Math aids or any other are some of the best options available in the market free of cost. Select the right technological support and also ensure the parent and the therapist are well acquainted with the mode of technology, to deliver the best of their services.
Another key aspect is, take it SLOW! Buffer time needs to be set aside for children to learn, to use and get accustomed to the mode of technology. For instance, while working with a child with autism, ensure if the child is comfortable in communicating through speech or do they prefer to use text-speech converting tools. Finding tools to match their needs is foremost.
As children switch to their new environment of learning, it’s always best to use what you find at their set-up as resources. Especially while working with children who are dependent on sensory and movement needs, it’s always best to use the things at our home. For instance, our Indian kitchen is never run out of pulses, using colored play dough, bubble wraps or sponges or soft cotton cloths can also come in handy. Sometimes hugs, allowing the child to play outside or deep breathing and medications can also help. Providing instructions step-by-step and lot of visual cues and videos have also been found to be aiding the learning process. Bring schedules and structure to the pattern of learning and design activities that the child can do in the absence of the therapist, along with the family’s support.
Special education indeed comes with the complexity of different permutations and combinations.Choosing the best and appropriate strategies and activities matching the needs of the children, a favorable home environment and unwavering support from the family is what it takes to change the notion of impossible to possible and make the experience pleasurable for the child!