Attending school online all day every week, or even just part of the day or week is difficult for any student. A remote learning environment presents lots of distractions and opportunities that seem way more fun than doing schoolwork. Virtual learning at home multiplies the difficulty tenfold for persons with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD). 

Thankfully, the nation is filled with dedicated, experienced teachers and education professionals who’ve spent their summers thinking up ways to help disabled students in their new learning environments. 

In-person learning at schools and educational centers helps facilitate development of naturally occurring skills like social skills, daily routines, and managing personal items. In a remote learning environment, students may lose some of the practices that help them learn those skills. However, there are effective ways parents can prepare and help fill those gaps. Here are 3 ways to do just that. 

Stick to a Routine

Students learn best when they have a clear structure and routine. First and foremost, getting enough sleep is essential to maintaining focus in any learning environment. Students of any age need to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. 

Create a clear schedule for the school day, and keep it in their study space so they know what is coming next throughout the day. If the student has difficulty reading, using a picture calendar is an excellent alternative. 

Typically, students with IDD struggle with focusing for long periods of time. Where a traditional student may be able to maintain focus for a couple of hours, students with IDD are more likely to hold their attention for 20-30 minutes. Where possible, parents should try to break up learning times into shorter periods. 

Set Up a Focused Workspace

Our homes are literally a place to distract ourselves. We’ve got all of our favorite things in one spot. Students learning at home are bound to struggle with being distracted more than when they’re at school. It’s essential that students have a focused, learning-oriented space that minimizes distractions. 

Ideally, the workspace will be located in a home office or extra room. For smaller homes or larger families, you may need to organize a corner of the living room. 

Remote Learning Space Diagram

The most effective workspaces include:

  • Natural lighting
  • A desk or table with plenty of space
  • A desk chair with back support
  • Other comfy seating like bean bag chairs or large pillows
  • Good lighting above and near work areas
  • A daily schedule
  • Whiteboard or cork board to keep track of to do items & goals
  • Personalization (completed art projects, knick knacks and favorite colors)

Get Out of the Classroom

Students with IDD may struggle with spending long periods of time in a single environment. It’s important that you make time for them to do more than schoolwork. The daily schedule you’ve carefully crafted should include time for arts and creative time, playtime inside and outside, lunch and naps for younger students.

School provides opportunities for students to engage with other students which helps them develop social and interpersonal skills at a natural rate. If your student is healthy, and your doctor agrees, consider setting time for them to meet with other students to play and even learn together. While virtual meetings over Zoom and FaceTime can serve as a stand in for interaction, students with IDD do best with in-person activities and communication.

Adult day services can provide older students with IDD a place to engage with other students who have similar experiences. Angel Guardians’ adult day services are designed to positively impact all areas of development with a special focus on social skills, life skills and independence.

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