Six Tips for Doing Homework with Your Special Needs Child

“No, you cannot play until your homework is finished.” Sound familiar? The jury is out as to whether homework is actually beneficial. Children have traded playtime for homework, test prep and doing projects. Beneficial? Many think so, after all today’s children are tomorrow’s work force. But who hasn’t lived through homework struggles? And how do we make it a positive experience for our children with special needs?

We know that homework can be a challenge both for parents, students and yes, even teachers. But it is, to some degree, necessary. Yet sitting down to focus after hours of being in school is quite challenging for most of us, especially those of us with attention or sensory processing challenges.

Take a look at a few tips that might just smooth your afternoon and evening homework routines.

1.Block Out Distractions: Whether your child tends to be highly distracted by sights or sounds, there are tools that can really help while doing schoolwork. Try using earmuffs or noise reduction ear buds. You may also provide a desktop carrel (visual barrier) for not only blocking out visual distractions but for encouraging visual attention. You can put lists, directions or reminders on the inside of the carrel to help your child stay focused.

2. Use Music: Some individuals work well with music in the background. Studies have shown that Mozart is particularly beneficial to encouraging calm, focus and attention. But you can try any soft, classical music to start. Rhythm can also be beneficial to helping your kids with internal organizational skills. I like to suggest a metronome for keeping kids on task. You can open one up in an app on a nearby computer or purchase a manual one.

3. Get Moving: If your child can’t sit still, try a wiggle cushion or therapy ball in place of a standard chair. It will allow them to wiggle and move while they learn. If you have a child who can’t sit at all, try a balance board and let them stand and learn. Or set up a whiteboard on the wall and provide a beanbag chair nearby to do homework.

4. Set A Timer: Use a timer to keep your child on task. We love the Time Timer that shows time elapsing, but just about any timer can be used. One that is visual and with an auditory beep is great for setting time limits to homework.

5. Take A Break: Make sure your child has movement breaks before, during, and after homework. Eye hand coordination is particularly helpful for organizing the brain and keeping your kids on task. You can toss a Frisbee, small ball, basketball, or any object for just a few minutes before homework or during a break. Just 5 minutes will do the trick to help organize the sensory system.

6. Brain Fuel: To ensure proper nutrition and adequate glucose levels, be sure a snack is provided before homework and the crunchier the better. The mouth is a terrific organizer. Your child may also benefit from chewing gum, sucking on a lollipop or chewing on a chewy while working.

Lastly, remind your child that homework is just “part of the job.” And following through as well as staying organized can minimize a lot of stress and help prepare them to be hard working adults.

Ilana Danneman is a product developer for Fun And Function. She has worked with therapists, teachers and parents of special needs children for 20 years and has been a physical therapist herself since 1986 with experience in acute care, spinal cord injury, outpatient rehab and pediatrics.