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Tips for Parents of Students with Disabilities

   by Wendy A. Weichel, Ed.S.

   California State University, Northridge

Teachers of students with disabilities can frequently be heard to lament that there is very little they can do at school if their efforts are not supported by the parents at home. On the other hand, teachers frequently forget that - though parents certainly have the expertise that comes with raising a child with a disability - parents usually have not been exposed to the tips and strategies that teachers learn during their education coursework. What might appear to be a "basic" strategy for a teacher, might not be something that a parent would know to do at home. Yet the impact that parents can have on the social, behavioral, and academic abilities of their own children has been documented again and again. Thus, what parents need is a "toolbox" of effective, yet simple, strategies that can be used at home to support what students are learning and doing in school.

Provided here are some hints, tips, and strategies that parents can implement at home with their children. Naturally, different strategies are required to address the various needs that accompany the wide range of disabilities that children may have. While the ideas listed here are, for the most part, effective, research-supported strategies, every parent must remember three important things:

  • not every strategy works with, or is necessary for, every student,
  • structure and consistency are key for all new strategies, and
  • above all, parents must find ways to celebrate a child's strengths - even more than looking for ways to compensate for his/her areas of deficit.
    Organizational Strategies
  • Have a central family calendar
  • Maintain a regular, consistent schedule
  • Have a place and a time for each activity (homework, TV, dinner, exercise...)
  • Utilize colored folders to show work completed and work to be done
  • Develop a home/school notebook for communication with teachers.
  • Structure and consistency are key!
  • Teach the correct behavior; don't assume he/she has "picked it up" along the way
  • Make privileges and consequences contingent on specific behavior
  • Provide concrete choices and options
  • Offer clear, written directions and contracts
  • Write contracts with your child's input.
  • Put new vocabulary words on colored note cards and keep them in recipe boxes
  • Allow them to teach you something new
  • Maintain a regular family reading time
  • Involve them with home activities that can reinforce academic curriculum (groceries, banking, letter writing, etc.)
  • Enhance classroom instruction (use Adapted Classics, movies, books on tape, previewing with books that are read in school)
  • Work on reading comprehension skills by asking questions based on information read
  • Play academic-related games
  • Use a timer for homework structure; select a timeframe for homework and work on something academic for that period - even if homework wasn't sent home that night!
  • Have the student provide cross-age tutoring with younger siblings.
    Communication /Self-Advocacy /Social Skills
  • Have your child write letters and thank you notes
  • Use tape recorders for note-taking, dictation, pre-writing, etc.
  • Encourage reading aloud
  • Use assistive technology
  • Have the student keep a vocabulary journal
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to increase oral communication, if necessary
  • Have your child describe his/her own disability and subsequent needs
  • Encourage your child to communicate needs and problems to the teachers
  • Encourage extracurricular involvement
  • Teach social skills; don't assume he/she has "picked it up" along the way; practice and reward appropriate social behavior
  • Build on and celebrate strengths.

About the author: Wendy Weichel, M.Ed., Ed.S., is an assistant Professor  at California State University, Northridge in the Department of Special Education. Prior to working at the university level, Wendy taught special education at the secondary level in both Virginia and California. Wendy frequently presents in-services and workshops throughout the state and at national conferences. Her teaching and research interests are on co-teaching, alternative certification, block scheduling, and strategies for students with mild disabilities.