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Back to School: Homework Tips

Heading back to school can bring a number of challenges for our kids, especially those with autism. Navigating new environments, teachers, therapists, and peers can each be a bit scary but full of opportunity.

One very common request we get is about supporting autistic kids with their homework. How do you get your child to do his or her homework? There are many strategies to help keep your child on task; all of them tried and true. Here are some to consider:

Make It Easier by Sticking to a Schedule

Set a schedule and stick to it. Like any other priority, if homework always occurs at the same time, and the routine becomes ingrained, your child will eventually accept the routine. This is true for teeth brushing, baths, and all of the chores children prefer to avoid. Initially, it is hard to hold the line on the schedule, but it sure pays off later.

Reinforce the Message That Homework Is Important

Set the stage and set the tone. Show your child that homework time is important and respected. Give them a special place to sit. Ask siblings to be quiet or leave the area during homework time. Check in frequently to see how they are doing and intersperse praise throughout homework tasks. Show them that you care and are invested in their homework efforts, and help them feel successful and competent.

Motivate with Kindness

Be firm but encouraging. Everyone tends to push back when they are nagged. Try to avoid nagging when you are frustrated by your child’s efforts. By observing your own behavior, you can better support theirs. You can set expectations for what the homework routine looks like, but make sure to be encouraging and motivating, too. Remind your child what you believe their strengths are and why you are proud of what they are learning.

Positive Reinforcement is Powerful

Use rewards. It is OK to reward your child for completing their homework. They are doing something difficult every day. Consider giving a reward for being successful at participating in homework time (not getting everything correct). Eventually, as homework time becomes easier, you can shift rewards to more academic goals. It does not have to be an ice cream sundae. Find out what they might like to do with you after they are done. This can be an opportunity to consider setting aside quality time that you will enjoy.

Every Opportunity for Choice Increases Compliance

Giving choices has been proven to increase motivation. What choices can they have during homework time? It is important for you to keep the time and the expectations the same. But, can they choose where to sit? Can they choose what materials to write with or write on? Can they choose what task to begin with? Also, consider letting them choose their reward as well. Give them at least three options. Empowering them in this way can be very powerful. The more control they have over the task the more motivated they will be.

Interested in more back-to-school tips? Check out our blogs, “Five Steps to Help Your Child with Autism Make Friends,” “This School Year, Build a Trusting Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher,” and “Tips for Reducing Back to School Anxiety.”


 

10 Tips for Navigating the IEPs

The Outcome of your IEP process relies on you…

One of the most important discussions parents can have with their clinical team is about the goals they have for their child as they grow into adulthood. Most parents grapple with finding the time to think about their child’s long-term future when they are facing the daily needs of mealtimes, sleep schedules, or having a successful play-date. However, as tough as this discussion is, it is critically important to start this conversation early because the foundational skills that will enable your child to function well as an adult are taught and acquired during childhood.

A significant part of a child’s development will be determined by their school environment, academic placement, and the academic curriculum that guides their learning. A child’s initial Individual Education Plan (IEP) is critical. This important document will lay the groundwork for the types and level of services that a child will receive throughout their academic years. It is essential that parents put sufficient time and effort into preparing for their first and subsequent IEP meetings.

An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a legal document that is developed for every child eligible for special education. This plan contains a statement of a child’s present level of functioning in terms of performance, educational needs, goals, levels of service, and measurable outcomes. The first IEP meeting is typically held before a child transitions into preschool or as soon as a child is identified as having a special need and determined eligible for special education services. An IEP meeting can be held at multiple times during the year: after a formal assessment; if a child demonstrates a lack of progress; or if a parent or teacher requests a meeting to develop, review, or revise a child’s current IEP.

There are some important steps that parents should consider when beginning the IEP process. We have outlined some of the most important ones for you here. The following guidelines can help you prepare for your first IEP:

  1. Understand the IEP Process and Know Your Rights. It is of paramount importance to read up on the IEP process, become familiar with IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and understand your rights as a parent. In addition to studying the law, many parents seek advice from an advocate and network with well-informed parents who have first-hand experience with the IEP process in their school district.
  2. Make All of Your Requests in Writing. All requests should be made in writing to create a documentation trail that provides a history of the child’s academic needs and requests to the school district (e.g., requests for an IEP meeting, an assessment of any kind, or a classroom placement recommendation). It also allows you to state your requests in your own words. In addition, ask the IEP committee to record these written requests as part of the minutes in an IEP meeting. The IEP committee can accept or deny these requests. If the committee denies the requests, then they must follow the procedural safeguards in IDEA and provide written notice of why they are denying your request. If the request is not documented in writing, the school district is not required to provide the service. (Be Familiar with Prior Notice of the Procedural Safeguards (34 CFR 300.503))
  3. Obtain Independent Assessments Ahead of Your IEP Meeting. The school team should not be recommending nor denying services without an assessment to evaluate the need for that service and neither should parents. You will want to request, in writing, that your child be assessed before the IEP meeting is held. Ideally, if all the necessary assessments are conducted prior to the IEP meeting, then the recommendations for treatments can be discussed during the IEP meeting. Be sure to request copies of the assessments, progress reports, and proposed goals in advance of the meeting, in order to have ample time to review and be fully informed during the meeting.
  4. Organize All of Your Records. Parents should have all of their records on hand and easily accessible during IEP meetings. Create a system of storing and updating all information that makes sense to you and that makes it easy for you to find the information you need.
  5. Observe the Classroom. Ask to observe any classroom where your child is being recommended for placement, so you can better understand if it would be a good fit. If for some reason the school will not let you observe, have a professional who is familiar with your child observe the setting.The law states that the team must start with the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) which is the general education classroom as the first option and work towards a more restrictive environment only as necessary as needs come up that cannot be met with supports and modifications in the LRE. Therefore, placement should never be decided upon before the child’s goals and objectives are concluded. (see item #7 for Goals and Objectives)
  6. Formulate a list of Questions before your IEP. In advance of the meeting, prepare a comprehensive list of questions (a very long list is completely appropriate). During the meeting, assign someone on your team to take notes and write down answers to all of your questions. This allows you to focus on the conversation. A tremendous amount of information is exchanged at IEP meetings, and it can be overwhelming to absorb it all.
  7. Make Sure Goals and Objectives are Progress Oriented. Goals and objectives are one of the most important elements of an IEP. If the goals and objective are not written in a manner that is observable and measurable, one cannot determine if a child is making progress. Without this, the school can claim that a child has made progress without producing actual data to evidence the skills gained. In addition, the goals and objectives will specify what a child needs to learn in that academic year. This is the critical time to think more long-term. Will these goals serve where you want your child to be two years from now? Five years from now? Are they laying the foundation for the necessary skills that your child will need as an adult to live the most independent life he or she can? Get input from members of the team that work with your child before the meeting; ask for their opinion of your child’s progress and needs.
  8. Be the Host, Not the Guest. Since IEP meetings are held at the school district, parents typically feel like a guest at their child’s IEP. However, since the IEP meeting is about your child, parents can create a more personal atmosphere. For example: by providing snacks, pastries and light refreshments, you can put yourself in the position of host of the IEP meeting. Another idea is to bring a photograph of your child and place it in the center of the table to remind the team who and what the meeting is about- providing services to support this specific child in attaining his or her highest potential.
  9. Never Go Alone. The support of a family member, uncle, husband, friend, advocate, cannot be overstated. The IEP process can be  stressful, tiring, and sometimes overwhelming. Parents often share that having someone else in the room to support them, take notes and offer reassurance makes a huge difference. In some instances, parents obtain professional support from advocates or special education attorneys who specialize in the IEP process.
  10. Disagree Without Being Disagreeable. Once the team has made their recommendations and concluded the IEP, parents will be asked to sign the IEP document. The IEP document allows for them to sign that they were present at the IEP but that they do not agree at that time with the recommendations. This is a good option to exercise at the end of the meeting. It gives you the opportunity to take the IEP home to review later and have the option to request changes. This can be done in a very respectful way, allowing you time to make the best decisions that are best for your family.As a parent, you are a vital part of your child’s IEP team. You are your child’s best advocate and the person who knows what’s best and most appropriate for him. With the correct information and support you can create a comprehensive and suitable roadmap for your child’s future.

 

– Michelle Stone, M.S., BCBA. Based on an interview with David Wyles- a Parent’s Guide to the IEP.

Tips for Making Homework Easier

The school year is now in full swing. The once-new backpacks may already be showing signs of distress from their daily haul …and perhaps your kids are too. Homework is a task that few (if any!) kids enjoy, and children with autism can especially have trouble with such assignments. Some children can appear to understand what they’re doing while in the classroom, but might not grasp what’s expected from home assignments. Furthermore, many students on the spectrum don’t ask their teachers for help. Fortunately there are several strategies to help your child stay focused.

NEGOTIATE APPROPRIATE ASSIGNMENTS
Regular communication with teachers is important when it comes to homework: it helps clarify the level and amount the child can handle. Keep in touch so teachers can create individually appropriate assignments.  Also, make sure you know which assignments are due when and that your child is turning in their completed assignments.  Children with autism may have difficulty organizing and tracking homework assignments and due dates.

KEEP IT CONSISTENT
If homework always occurs at the same time and becomes routine, your child will eventually accept it. Initially it may be hard to hold the line, but persistence pays off. This works for almost all chores children prefer to avoid, from taking baths to brushing teeth.  You may also want to use a visual schedule and even a timer so that your child knows what to expect when.

SET YOUR CHILD UP FOR SUCCESS
Set a tone that homework time is important and a priority. Give your child an important place to sit, and ask siblings to stay quiet or have them work on their homework too! Ask how it’s going, and be sure to offer praise to help build your child’s confidence. Show that you care and want them to be successful.

MOTIVATE AND ENCOURAGE
Be firm but encouraging, being careful not to nag too much. This can be difficult when you’re frustrated so be conscious of your tone. Set solid standards for what the homework routine looks like, but be encouraging and motivating. Remind your child that you are proud of their efforts and that they are learning. Consider giving a reward for good effort (or even just sitting and attending initially) even if not everything is correct. As improvement is made over time, you can shift rewards to more academic goals. Rewards don’t have to be candy or toys, just ask the child what they might like to do with you once homework is done—it’s an opportunity for positive quality time you can both enjoy.  If your child has difficulty waiting until the end of homework to receive the reward, give them tokens (stickers, stars, etc.) throughout the homework routine, and when they reach a certain number of tokens, give them the reward.

OFFER CHOICES
Giving choices has been proven to increase motivation. You want homework time to become routine, but you can still offer choices such as where to sit, what writing materials to use, which task to start with and definitely the type of reward given for successful completion. Empower them by offering at least three options; they’ll like the (limited) control!

PICK YOUR BATTLES
Your child’s homework does not have to be perfect.  Maybe they misspelled a word.  Will the teacher be able to figure it out? Then let it slide.  Perhaps their handwriting is a little sloppy.  If it’s still legible, don’t spend a lot of time making them re-write something they already did.  The less you correct your child (and make them re-do their work), the less frustrating homework will be for both of you! Try to praise twice as much as you critique!

BREAK UP DIFFICULT TASKS
Seeing a full worksheet of 30+ math problems can be overwhelming for any child! Try covering the bottom of the page with a blank sheet of paper and working on one row at a time.  You can even switch to other assignments between rows if necessary. Ask your child to help you come up with a pattern (e.g., 5 math problems, 2 spelling words, 5 math problems, 2 spelling words, etc.).  If there’s a longer assignment due at the end of the week, work on a little bit each day to make it less overwhelming.

 

– Kelly Namanja

Kelly Namanja, MA, BCBA is AST’s Clinical Director for Chicagoland. Learn more about our team and ABA services in Chicago, as well as autism resources in Illinois here.

Reducing Back to School Anxiety

Getting ready for the new school year can be a hectic and exciting time. For children with autism (and their parents), all this change can feel overwhelming.

Here are some suggestions for how to help ease your child’s back-to-school anxieties:

Get a sneak peak
Scope out the school and classroom in advance. If your child is going into a new classroom, visit it at least once before the first day of school. If transition has been a struggle in the past, consider taking as much time as your child needs to explore the classroom. Make it as much fun as possible, playing in each of the new areas.

Check out seat assignments
For older children, ask the teacher if a seat assignment has been made. Do some enjoyable activities in that seat. If familiar classmates will be in the room, show where they will be sitting, too.

Rehearse new activities
Find out from the teacher what new activities are planned. Then, prepare your child by performing, practicing, and talking about them. This rehearsal will reduce anxiety when the new activities come up in the first week of school.

Anticipate sensory overload
The noise and chaos of a typical classroom can sometimes be a bit much to handle. Establish a plan for what to do in this situation – perhaps there is a quiet room where your child can “take a break” for a short time.

Volunteer in the classroom
Most teachers welcome assistance from parents. Your presence may be a source of comfort to your child during those challenging first weeks.

Going to school can pose many challenges for children with autism, as well as countless opportunities for building crucial social, language, and academic skills. Be positive and encouraging, and your child will be off to a great year!

For more information about education rights, visit the Know Your Rights section of our Autism Journey Map.