News flash: Homeschooling is not getting any easier. For all of us parents-turned-teachers, there are still no official guidelines or trainings. And when your kid has diagnosed learning challenges, like mine does, it’s completely overwhelming.
My daughter attends a private school for language-based differences. She lives with auditory processing disorder (APD), dyscalculia, and inattentive ADHD (or ADD). Her classmates are kids just like her who struggle with reading, math, and general executive functioning. Her well-trained teachers use a range of visual, auditory, and experiential learning strategies to keep students engaged. They know how to modify curricula to match a student’s pace and seem to skillfully tease out self-advocacy with ease.
I am grateful every day that she has the opportunity to attend a school like this, where administrators “get” her learning style; they were also ready to go with remote learning in mid-March, with no break or loss of school days after our state-wide quarantine began. But even with virtual classrooms running, I can tell it’s not the same and I’m worried that my daughter is falling even more behind.
When things were “normal,” my daughter also met with speech, occupational, and physical therapists during the school week to strengthen skills in decoding, language processing, therapeutic listening, handwriting, and core strength, to name a few.
While I am familiar with these therapies and techniques — my daughter has had an IEP since kindergarten — I am no expert in teaching them or in understanding what my child needs now, or next. Since I am also trying to keep up with a full-time job remotely, and ensure that our fridge and cupboards stay stocked, I have far less patience than a typical teacher when it comes to homework and monitoring remote schooling.
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Learning Sans Feelings: All Work, No Fun
Take math for instance. Math was always easy for me. Still, solving a 5-step algebra problem with a middle schooler who still hasn’t mastered basic math facts (enter dyscalculia and APD) or her times tables is a nightmare for both of us. Finishing fewer than 10 problems can take an hour and we’re running out of erasers faster than toilet paper around here!
In the other core subjects — language arts, social studies, and science — it is now clear just how important face-to-face connections are for learning. My daughter wishes she could see her teachers in person. Virtual lessons don’t include the back-and-forth banter and storytelling that make learning fun. Watching presentations about World War I, or dissecting the latest literature assignment, is a lot more boring online. The facts are there, but the concepts and anecdotes that students with learning challenges need for the material to really sink in is limited. We all remember, for example, our favorite history or English teacher — and the way they made learning feel.
The lack of personal connection impacts social learning, too. Just as adults are trying to figure out how to hold professional meetings via Zoom, students are trying to figure out how to interact with each other inside virtual classrooms. For children who struggle with traditional learning, cues from body language, the tone and volume of someone speaking, and real-eye contact matter even more. While teachers are doing their absolute best during this unprecedented time, assigned discussion groups and lab partners — even in a Google Hangout where video can be enabled — lack the hands-on boost a kid gets from physical manipulation, seeing trial-and-error in action, and true teamwork.
My now-routine 2-am wakeup is filled with anxious worries about my daughter’s educational future (and toilet paper, too, of course). As a student that has always been classified as working below grade level, where is this new gap in learning going to leave her?
[Click To Read: 7 Secrets to Engaged Online Learning for Students with ADHD]
More Roadblocks: Squeezing in Other Crucial Tasks
Ask any parent of a child with an IEP when their school day “ends” and they’ll likely say, “never.” Long after school is dismissed and homework is finished, many kids with learning issues still face a long list of other tasks to complete — all prescribed to help boost their learning profile.
For instance, because my daughter has APD, she’s required to spend 20 minutes a day participating in a therapeutic listening program that uses rhythms to help train the brain to differentiate active listening from background noise. (Music therapy has other benefits as well, including improving self-regulation, memory, and cognitive decision making.)
In addition, because she has weak muscle tone (related to being a late walker), my daughter does a series of physical therapy stretches each day to build core strength and balance, as well as tool-based exercises that coordinate speech and breathing patterns to help with volume and articulation. These take another half-hour.
On top of that, there’s independent reading — something every student with language-based learning challenges needs to keep up their decoding and fluency skills.
So, after a long day spent digesting six subjects’ worth of curricula delivered via the screen, followed by 1 to 2 hours of homework and studying, the last thing my daughter wants to do is “more work.” When I tell her it’s time, her response is a resounding “Uugggghhhh….!” And I get it. She’s exhausted. She needs a mental health break just as us adults do. Some nights, I simply let it go, hoping it won’t hurt her in the long run.
This Bumpy Ride Has Smooth Parts, Too
But, it’s not all downhill. There have been some positive remote learning experiences.
For one, my daughter has become a time-management master and expert at following schedules. She sets alarms for each remote class period, knows exactly how long she can take a gaming or texting break before starting homework, and makes her own to-do lists. She even uses Saturday mornings — after a long week — to get any weekend homework done first thing. (As a Type A, I couldn’t be more proud!)
In many ways, my daughter is teaching herself. With less in-person instruction, several of her school subjects are requiring more independent reading and analysis. She has figured out new ways to digest and remember the material that make sense for her, such as drawing graphics and crafting acronyms.
To me, these are advanced skills. For kids who struggle with reading fluency, comprehension, and executive functioning these are important skills to hone. At the end of the day, I’m thankful that her school and teachers have been on the ball with remote learning from Day One so these types of skills can grow.
Remote schooling is forcing my daughter to grow up a bit, too. I see hints of blossoming independence and a lot more resilience than I had at her age. She is far less anxious or stressed than I am about how long the pandemic will last, or what next Fall may look like. Instead, my tweenager is tackling each day as it comes with determination. Equally important, she is still willing to cuddle on our much-needed quarantine movie nights.
For this mom, these are both wins!
[Free Resource: Is It More Than Just ADHD?]
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Updated on April 28, 2020