Helping children with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Conditions manage home learning.
Tips for parents, Nannies, and Governesses.
Whilst we adjust to a new normal in these uncertain times, it is sometimes difficult to know how best to support children at home when it comes to education. With most schools delivering home-schooling programs (ranging from educational computer games to full-day home-education schedules) it can be difficult for parents and carers to know what is best for their child.
For some children, particularly those with additional educational needs, this can be a particularly unsettling time. Children with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) are especially vulnerable at this time, as the routine and structure of schools is often highly beneficial to them. Here are some tips for parents, Nannies, and Governesses in providing a calm, safe and secure environment for your children
Plan for YOUR child
The first thing to ask yourself as a parent, Nanny, or Governess educating at home is which style and methods work best for your individual child. Every child is different, and while one might thrive with worksheets from school, another might find their stress levels rising even further. For children with ASCs and/or ADHD, who often have a more difficult time in traditional classrooms anyway, trying to recreate an exact classroom at home is unlikely to be beneficial. Instead, here is a positive opportunity to create a learning environment for your child which takes the best practices from school and uses them creatively to create experiences that can rebuild student’s confidence and natural curiosity.
It is important to encourage the child to actively engage with their education and enable them to have some level of control over their learning. Listen to what they tell you. They probably have deeper insight into themselves than you might expect.
Schedule and routine
Developing a solid (but not overly demanding) schedule is the single best way you can help children with ADHD and ASCs maintain a sense of normality during distinctly abnormal circumstances. In fact, all children benefit from the sense of security that structured time brings. This does not mean filling every moment of every day with structured learning activities but making sure that children are able to anticipate what they are doing and when. This minimizes idle time and the resulting feelings of confusion that can lead to behavioural outbursts and/or meltdowns. Keep the schedule simple, but consistent.
Depending on the age of the child, you might like to use visual schedules, with pictures making it very clear what each chunk of time entails. Involve your child in creating this schedule every day. Having physical cards, in picture or word form, that can be manoeuvred enables your child to take some control over their day. You can set the expectations, but they can control when they approach each task. Having choices will help to ease anxiety and any feelings of lack of control. Make sure to incorporate movement breaks and physical activity periodically throughout the day.
Other visual prompts might also help, checklists and sticky notes will help children to stay organized and reduce any feelings of being overwhelmed. Visual timers can also be used to help with transitions and are readily available in app form. Setting very clear visual expectations for time spent on task is helpful for all children. Remember to give warnings when tasks (especially preferable ones) are due to finish.
Incorporate day to day tasks in the schedule. Brushing teeth, showering, and getting ready for bed are just as important as completing Maths homework.
Create a positive learning environment
Schools often provide quiet spaces for children with additional needs to complete work free from distractions and unwanted stimulus. This can easily be emulated at home. Providing a dedicated workspace will help your child to focus and get into a working frame of mind. Set up a quiet, private space, with any materials needed readily available. Help your child to keep the space organised, set it up with a specific place for everything – and schedule in tidy up time to help them keep their space in order.
Unexpected auditory or visual distractions can make focus very difficult for children with attention challenges. But such stimuli can be controlled with careful setting up of their workspace. Choose a calm looking space, free from visual clutter.
Whilst screens may be essential to complete work (especially with older children), try to limit what they can access during work time. There are several online productivity tools aimed at children, which can limit available websites and reduce the temptation to stray to online gaming and other more appealing websites. If you have access to a printer, printing materials and taking the need for screens out altogether will help maintain focus.
Utilise the senses to create a sense of calm and focus in your child’s workspace. Certain essential oils have shown in studies to be useful in helping with calm and focus. Why not try some Rosemary or Lemon for focus, or Lavender or Cedarwood for calming? Background noise can also be helpful. White noise, classical music, or bionic beats have all been noted to help children reduce the unexpected background noises that distract them. Again, make sure to involve your child in the decision-making process. Experiment with different smells and sounds and allow them to decide what works for them. This provides another way of giving the child control over their environment.
Understand sensory needs
Children with ASCs, in particular, will benefit from easy access to sensory activities to help them to self-regulate. Try researching ‘sensory diets’ – a bank of physical, tactile and other sensory activities which help a child to stay alert and calm. Physical movement breaks (think jumping jacks, push-ups, bouncing) should be encouraged throughout the day. Activities based on tactile touch can easily be incorporated into learning activities. Practicing spelling in a large tray of shaving foam, animating stories with squishy playdough, or using blocks with interesting textures to complete Maths problems can help.
Certain oral motor (mouth) activities can also help with focus. Did you know that certain crunchy snacks help with focus? Or drinking through a straw? Again, experiment with your child and see what works for them. Sensory preferences are highly individual and working through the options to see what works will pay dividends over time.
Heavy work is a lifesaver when crisis approaches. If you see your child becoming frustrated or under/over-stimulated, get them to help you carry something heavy to a different room, take out the trash, or push a heavy vacuum around the room. This heavy work provides much-needed regulation for your child and gives them a change of scene to re-focus and avoid a meltdown.
Keep educational expectations reasonable
Children with both ADHD and ASCs need clear boundaries to help them to function normally. Rules should be clear and shared and reviewed frequently. Remind them of what you expect from them in terms of behaviour on a daily basis. You can also let them know what they can expect from you. The ground rules, like everything else, should be written together. If the child had a hand in writing the rules, they are much more likely to abide by them. Make it explicitly clear what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Reinforce the rules with as much positivity as you can. Congratulating them on excellent behaviour is far more beneficial than constant correcting of unwanted behaviours, and criticism.
Within reason, focus on the positives. When behaviour is destructive, gently guide them back to the rules and give them a chance to correct their own behaviour.
For some children, drafting an emergency plan for if they feel themselves approaching meltdown can be beneficial. Make it clear that it is okay to feel overwhelmed (indeed that anything they feel is okay), but if they follow their plan, they can help themselves feel better again. Providing a space to retreat to (separate from workspace) is essential and leaving some calming activities available (think sensory diet) will help them to bring themselves back down.
Excessive academic expectations during this time will not help anybody. In times of crisis, human productivity is necessarily reduced. Our brains are busy processing what is going on outside. Additional time at home does not equate to additional academic expectations. It is very difficult for anyone to learn new skills when they are dealing with uncertainty and crisis, most of all children. It is okay not to be at your most productive during a global crisis. Set goals that aim to consolidate previous learning – not to learn new skills.
Ask the child’s school for flexibility in expectations for home learning if the child is struggling under the weight of the work set by the school. Most British, American, and International Schools will have documentation to support children with additional educational needs. If your child has an Individual support plan in place at school, communicate with the school’s Special Educational Needs (SEN) team and negotiate reasonable expectations for homework for your child.
Remember, every child is different. Many are facing additional challenges in learning, whilst also coping with world events and disruption to routine. Be understanding and lower expectations. Create routine and structure which allow plenty of time for play and bonding. Think sensory as often as possible. Whilst maintaining some form of academic work may be beneficial in maintaining a sense of normality, it does not take precedence over your child’s emotional needs. The priority for your child is to feel safe and secure during uncertain times and creating a positive environment for them at home is one of the best ways you can achieve this.
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