So you have a kid with the dreaded DD label: Developmentally Delayed (or Disabled, depending on his age). He's not getting what he needs at school, so you decide to take on his education at home.

If you have any sense at all, this is where you pause to wonder whether you've taken full leave of whatever brains your kids have left you with, but you'll get over that. Then it's time to figure out how to make educating your child as easy as possible for both of you.

Despite what most public schools imply, with their rigid schedules (who really believes two dozen six-year-olds will all need to potty at the same time?) and uncomfortable chairs, learning shouldn't be hard. It should be fun and progress naturally, at a pace that's right for your child.

The first thing you need to do is take a good long look at your child and note the way he seems to learn best. Does he need structure and a predictable plan for each day, or does he thrive on knowing something new and different will happen each day? Does he retain more information when he sees it, hears it, or immerses himself in it? Can he sit still for a while and focus or is he a little jumping bean? What things does he really enjoy doing? What motivates him? What is he doing well in academically, and where does he struggle? Once you've assessed these things you can develop a plan to help him reach his full potential without having to engage in a full-on war to get the lessons into his head.

The first and most important thing to remember is that kids are always learning. Everything they do teaches them a little something, plants little seeds in their heads that help them learn the next thing, and the next. So don't sweat the off days, and remember that you can always try again tomorrow, and in a different way if you need to.

One of the most helpful things you can do is to invest in a large dry-erase or chalkboard and write the day's schedule on it. If your child is a pre-reader, draw or cut out pictures that help him see what he'll be doing. It's best, especially with younger kids, to keep the blocks of time fairly short, with frequent breaks. If your child needs quite a bit of structure, your schedule can be pretty detailed, so he can see when it's time for each subject or activity, and what exactly he'll be doing. Some kids need things to be very specific, so it's fine to have a schedule something like this:

8:00-Math time. Do page 7 in your workbook. You can use bears to help with counting. Mom will help you. When you are done, put your book back on the shelf.

8:30-Break time. You can play with cars, color a picture or go outside until break is over. Go potty if you need to.

9:00-Reading. Choose a book from the bottom shelf and sit on the couch. Read to Mom. Ask for help with words you don't know.

You get the idea there. For a kid who's more easygoing about such things, it's fine to lay out a loose guideline for the day, something like this:

8:00 to 11:00-School time. No TV or playing outside!

11:00-Break for running around, playing and lunch.

12:30-Reading and rest time.

1:30-Go play!

Once you're ready to get to the actual schoolwork, make sure your child has a comfortable place to sit and work. Lots of kids with Asperger's or other developmental delays are wigglers. If your kid can't keep himself still, trying to force him to will just make both of you miserable. Instead, get him a large yoga ball to sit on, a wiggle seat (available at places that sell tools for occupational and physical therapies, and sometimes loaned out by local developmental agencies) , or one of those squishy beanbag pillows. He'll be able to have a little bit of constant motion going on, and if he isn't focusing on trying to be perfectly still, he'll be free to focus on his schoolwork. I bought my son a wiggle seat called a Disc-O-Sit and it's made a big difference in how long he's able to sit and focus. He still isn't a placid, docile statue of a kid, but he can get through a meal or worksheet without getting up and down a hundred times. If your child has fine-motor delays or difficult with handwriting, buy or make him a slantboard to help position him correctly and make writing easier. They're simple to make-all you need is a 3-inch binder, a clipboard, and some strips of Velcro or glue. Position the binder so that the spine is facing away from you, and attach the clipboard to the binder so that the bottom of it is level with the side of the binder closest to you. If you like, you can glue or Velcro the binder closed so it won't slip while your child is writing.

Remember that kids aren't made to be silent, despite the admonitions of our great-grandmothers that they should be seen and not heard. It may help your child comprehend his reading material if he can read it out loud to himself. He may simply focus better if he's providing himself with a steady stream of chatter. If his talking, singing or humming isn't affecting what he's learning, leave him alone. It may well be a self-calming technique that helps him relax and concentrate.

Allow for differences in learning styles. Your child may forget what he's read as soon as he closes the book, but remember it well if it's read to him, or vice versa. If you need to, get him books on tape or CD, or record yourself reading the stories. Don't make him try and do math problems in his head! Give him paper clips, Cheerios, plastic blocks or bears, whatever is handy, and encourage him to use them to figure out the problems. Not only does it help him solve the actual problem, it also helps him to relate math and counting to something concrete, which many kids have a hard time doing. 6+3 doesn't really mean anything besides some squiggly lines on paper, unless you have a context for it. Using manipulatives helps kids realize that 6+3 means adding a number of something to something you already have, and many kids who have the kind of literal minds that tend to go along with Asperger's need that visual to understand it. I love paper clips for teaching math, because they link together and actually show how parts can join to make a whole, or a whole can be broken down into parts.

If your child is excelling in some areas and not doing as well in others (and I have yet to meet a kid who isn't like this, developmentally delayed or not) make sure to allow plenty of time for the more difficult subjects. It may be a good idea to start off with a fun activity, like an art project, then work on something hard for a little while, then move on to a subject the child does well in. After a snack or lunch, some play time and a little rest, go back to the harder subject again. Sitting for hours working on something a child struggles with is just setting you both up for anger and tears. Remind your child why it's important that he learn the material, and remember that the world won't implode if your child doesn't master a certain subject or skill on a given day. Kids learn at widely different speeds and sometimes, a child just plain isn't ready to do certain things.

Keep in mind that kids in school may be there for seven or eight hours, but they only get less than half that in actual learning time. Adjust your schedule to fit your child's needs, build in plenty of time for running, playing, cuddling and being silly, take a break when you need to (and you'll need to), and your child will absolutely succeed.


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