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Friday, 26 April 2013

Summer and the Special Needs Student

"No more school.  No more books.  No more teacher's dirty looks!"
This chant and ones like it will soon be sung in classrooms across the country.  For some special needs parents the end of the school year will bring relief from nagging about homework and berating their child for not listening in class.  Their child can use up all their energy running in the sun and exploring the city.  For other special needs parents the end of the school year brings trepidation as they are unsure how they will entertain their child for two whole months.  Their child needs constant supervision and a very specific person to take care of their needs.  Either way I have a reminder for both sets of parents from a teacher's perspective.  

Summer is just a season.  It's not a break from learning.

Just in writing that I feel like a Tiger Mom and a kill joy.  Don't get me wrong.  There is a need for a break from the school routine and summer is a great time for that.  Different seasons require different rhythms and routines.  But as relaxed and fun as summer can be, there needs to be intentional time worked into the summer routine to continue internalizing the skills learned during the school year.  This is great advice for a all students but is even more important for the special needs student.  The special needs student works so hard to make gains and these gains are lost easily without practice.  It may take 10 months to make significant gain in one area and only 2 months to have to start almost at square one again. 

Here are some ways to include "school" in the summer routine.

1)  Start from their natural interests and your regular summer activities.
There is no need to change what you do during a summer vacation.  Rather, think of how you can bring the learning in.  If your child attends a summer camp, ask your special needs child to write, tell or draw one thing they did during the day.  If your child has learned a new skill, ask them to demonstrate it and teach you how to do it.  If you are tent camping, ask your child to help set up the tent or start the fire all the while explaining why you are doing something.  If your child loves soccer have them read a book, fiction or non-fiction, about soccer.  If you are flying internationally, explain time zones and let your child figure out the time of arrival.  Help them and yourself to remember learning is continuous and happens in all aspects of our daily life.  You can school from natural interests and what are you normally doing.    

2) Continue expectations and stategies used in the school day.  
School is not just about academics.  Schooling is also about fostering independence.  The latter is probably the more important lesson throughout school.  The expectations and strategies used in the school day guide your special needs child to become more independent so make sure to use them regularly throughout the summer.  If your child uses a visual schedule at school, use a similar one at home.   Ask your teacher for guidance or peruse our Visual Schedules Pinterest board.  If your child is expected to be able to complete at least 30 minutes of homework each night, provide time for your child to journal or do pages from a workbook you know they can complete easily.  This way when they start school in September the expectation has already been achieved.  If your child was taught to use an agenda to organize their daily tasks then use an agenda at home in the same manner.I know including school during the summer may require more work and energy than you have.  But if you can instill some "school" time in the summer, your child will be ready to take even greater strides in the following school year.More ideas for summer activities with your special needs child can be found here

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