Special Education Tips for Parents

Special tips for your child’s first and most important teacher –


By June Bond and Stacey Prusak

     As parents, we know that we are our children’s first teachers.  We are keenly aware of our children’s gifts, as well as our children’s weaknesses. We are a vital part of our children’s educational team.  And— with more and more parents home schooling, the parents may comprise the entire teaching team!  With this huge responsibility in mind, what are some tips for parents as they seek to help their children learn more effectively and to meet special education needs, whether in public, private, or home schools?

ORGANIZATIONALS TIPS: The first key to a good start is good organization.  Children that lack organizational skills are at risk from the beginning.  Children should have a quiet uncluttered area in which to work. The area should be free from noise and movement distractions. Preferential seating can be a good accommodation for a student that is easily distracted.  A durable bound homework planner is a must for both parents and students. This tool can also serve as a utensil for communication between home and school.  In addition, a long term wall calendar helps the child to visually see how much time before a project is due or a test is to be prepared for. Color coded folders and composition books also provide visual cues to organization. A dedicated student space at home also sets the right organizational tone for home work and keeping all school work in one setting. Some schools will also allow families to purchase a second set of school books for the home in order to assist with organization and to avoid mad rushes to the school to retrieve a missing textbook. (Some schools will also allow a second set of text books for home use as a free accommodation.) Organization in the routine at home will start the day off more smoothly. Clothes should be laid out in advance in the same spot each day to avoid the mad morning rush syndrome. Book bags should be put by the home exit door or in the car for ease in the morning. Planning ahead makes for a smoother transition from home to school.

READING ASSISTANCE: We all agree that reading is a fundamental way to gain knowledge. However, many students have difficulty in reading and/or comprehension. These students can be helped by providing the student with texts that can be used as a read along. For children that are auditory learners, books on tape, DVDs, and videos are a good “add on” to the printed page. Parents can use the help of high school service clubs, senior learning centers, and volunteer organizations to help in recording — And —  make good friends with the public library AV department. Many times, the textbook its self presents a major hurdle for students with reading disabilities. Teacher or parent made outlines which highlight the major concepts can be of benefit.  Purchasing the text book for at home use also allows the child to highlight important information and key concepts.

WRITING – Some students are very slow in writing or their hand writing is illegible. The good news on this issue is that today’s children are now keyboard savvy and can use their key boards to respond to tests and assignments.  Tape recorders can also be used for oral responses if word processing is not readily available.  Not only is the physical act of writing difficult for some children, the process of writing can be laborious and frustrating. Creating a page of transition words/phrases can be helpful to children. Using transitional words and phrases will help papers read more smoothly, and at the same time allows the writer to flow more smoothly from one point to the next. By giving students a list of transitional works and phrases, it will enhance their logical organization and improve the connections between thoughts.  Some of these transition words/phrases can include:  in the beginning, as a result of, first, second, last, in comparison, in conclusion, etc.  Extensive lists of these phrases can be found on the internet and are very helpful for the reluctant and/or disorganized writer.

Using literacy software for spelling, word prediction and idea (graphic organizers)  as well as generating lists are very useful tools to begin to get thoughts on paper and organized.

Students with written expression difficulties can benefit from writing formats or models  For example, the time tested, “who, what, when, where, and why” model can be used a format help for the reluctant writer.  A word bank of exciting verbs, colorful adjectives and descriptive adverbs can also promote better writing skills. Topic sentences for older student can also help them to make a better transition in writing.  Some students may have more creative “writing skills” if allowed to dictate rather than write their composition.

MATH – In a world where ciphering has been long replaced by calculators and digital apparatuses, parents and educators need to strive for the acquisition of concepts rather than exact calculations. Manipulatives are very helpful in math class for children who have disabilities. Colored chalk, abacuses, pattern blocks, base ten blocks, calculators, and multiplication charts are helpful in teaching basic math concepts. Let your child check his work with a calculator as a learning tool.  Likewise, the use of graph paper helps a child with poor writing skills avoid mistakes when doing multiplication and long division. Timed fact tests should be modified to show the individual student progress rather than speed. After all, when is the last time since third grade you had to complete 100 math facts in a three minute timed session?  The use of work sheets also helps eliminate copying mistakes from the chalk board to the paper. To find some of these manipulatives at rock bottom prices, call the local home school organizations and ask when the group is having a yard sale. You will save money and make some valuable purchases.

SPELLING- Spelling may be a gift to some and a burden to others. Provide a spelling dictionary of frequently misspelled words and of frequently used words. Teach your child the joys and wonders of spell check in their writing programs. When teaching spelling with your child use a multisensory approach that combines saying the word, spelling the word out loud and writing the word.

NOTETAKING – Note taking presents major issues for children as they approach middle school. Some children miss the main point while focusing on insignificant points or random thoughts. Other students become frustrated because the mechanical part of the note taking lags behind the lecture, others making the notes unreadable in an effort to catch up with the lecture. Encourage your child to use abbreviations in their note taking. Ask for accommodations of a written copy of the teacher’s note or another student’s note. This copy does not excuse the student from taking notes, but provides a safety net to learn the material on which they may be tested. Using the option for typing notes rather than writing not can also produce better results with less frustration.

SENSORY ISSUES – Some children also have sensory issues. For example, depending on your child’s needs, you may also want to use special seat cushions for sensory input. In addition, you may want to use a weighted lap pad or a weighted vest. Calming music, white noise or noise cancellation headphones can help reduce environmental auditory distractions. Reducing items on a page and/or using a tracking device can also assist with visual sensory issues. Lastly, some schools have a “sensory room” that can provide a variety of input for a student with these needs.

While you, the parent, may not think that you are a teacher… you are your child’s first and longest lasting teacher and best advocate.  Long after your child’s teachers retire to the sandy beaches or the snow covered mountains, you will still be your child’s teacher and advocate. For added ideas on how to be a PRO Parent (Parents Reaching Out to Other Parents), go to the US Department of Education website to find out where programs are in your area.

About the authors:

June Bond earned a BA in psychology and a M.Ed. in early Childhood Education from Converse College.  She has published over 40 articles that relate to adoption, education, and family issues and speaks nation-wide on adoption-related issues. She is the 2006 Congressional Angel of Adoption recipient. She serves as a member of the Spartanburg County Foster Care Review Board.  June is currently the Executive Director of Adoption Advocacy of South Carolina. Mrs. Bond has been a certified adoption investigator for over 26 years.   

Stacey Prusak earned her Bachelor of Arts from Flagler College and a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Georgia State University.  She resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two daughters. Prusak is currently an elementary school special education teacher at a school serving the needs of students with Dyslexia and language based learning differences.