Homeschooling is hard enough for all of us trying to teach our own kids while working at home and keeping the house running. But if your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and is resisting your efforts as a fill-in teacher, it’s even more challenging. This is a confusing time for us and for our children. We’re trying to assume the role of instructor and help our children move forward. Thinking about special education and homeschooling is overwhelming and exhausting and it’s hard to imagine taking on this role indefinitely.

So how do we make the most of distance learning for children with an IEP?  I picked the brain of a stellar special education teacher who has chosen to keep her identity anonymous, so we’ll call her Mrs. IDEA.


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How many hours a week should we really expect our children to spend on schoolwork?

“I think it is a very individualized thing. There’s such a wide spectrum of disabilities. Some kids have mild learning disabilities and some are non-verbal.” Mrs. IDEA explained that the amount of time for students that have IEPs should be decided by their educators and parents based on their endurance to receive instruction on a daily basis. Calculate the number of hours your child is actually in her major subject classes (with the help of your teacher) and then decrease it by 1-2 hours.

Keep in mind that some children struggle to work indepen while others can keep up with their mainstream peers. With that said, another factor is the availability of an adult who can provide the right amount of support given your child’s abilities in each subject. For some subjects, your child may be able to handle the assignments and for others, he or she may need you to sit beside him and work on one problem or task at a time.

Mrs. IDEA suggests a rough estimate as follows:

Kindergarten – 1st grade         1-2 hours

2nd – 3rd grade                         2 hours

4th – 5th grade                          2-3 hours

For middle school students and high school students, it’s variable based on your child’s ability to sit and complete written or online work. For example, if your child has ADHD, sitting at a desk or table for several hours will likely result in lost periods of time staring out the window, chatting with friends, or even staring at the riveting ceiling fan.

I’ve heard from many adolescents and young adults that getting started and finishing assignments has been very difficult. With that said, consider extending the daily time for school work to 3-4 hours for middle school students and 4-5 hours for high school students. And these numbers can vary from day to day depending on endurance and motivation.

Share your opinions and make a difference: Help Rutgers understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affects families of children with autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder by taking this survey.

How can parents instruct their children in a way that is in sync with how they are taught by their special education teachers?

Mrs. IDEA suggests that you contact your child’s teachers for ideas. “There will be things that parents cannot do because of lack of training or supplies. There will be things that parents can do just the same. Do the best of your ability and call on the teachers to help fill in the gaps. Teachers can model for parents via video or send written instructions.”

Learning at home can be dysregulating. What can parents do to promote regulation during instruction?

“The most important thing is sticking to a schedule. The school atmosphere is very much schedule driven. Most students with disabilities crave schedules and routines. Parents can make a daily schedule for their child that is manageable and not overwhelming.” Mrs. IDEA suggests building in rewards for completing assignments, and movement breaks throughout.

“A good atmosphere is key.” She suggests a quiet space with good lighting. Your child should be sitting up, preferably at a table. “All of these things help a student to understand that this is serious and it matters.”  She also recommends sticking to a bedtime and wake up time so that there is consistency and predictability to each school day, just as it would be if they were physically going to school.

If your child is working with an occupational therapist at school, ask for a list of exercises and incorporate sensory breaks in between subjects. Or you may wish to begin and end with sensory exercises to give your child the time to move, gain sensory input as needed in order to improve attention and regulation. Art or music assignments can also be incorporated into “breaks” which can be completed by standing at the counter (aka – a standing desk) for your child who needs to work on something that is not based in reading and writing. Incorporate specials and therapies into the breaks which means you don’t have to tag on your child’s therapy exercises at the end as “another thing to do.”

Parents, like myself, are experiencing a ton of guilt and anxiety about our children not maintaining their skills or making progress towards their academic goals. How should we deal with this?

“Do your best but don’t beat yourself up. Most parents didn’t go to school for this. Many of us have jobs to do in addition to now teaching our children. Be firm and set expectations but also know when enough is enough. Hands-on activities and real-life learning opportunities are just as important right now as school lessons.”

Mrs. IDEA encourages activities like baking and cooking “where students can read recipes and measure out ingredients. Take the time to catch up as a family now that we aren’t constantly running around.”  She also suggests virtual playdates so kids can see their friends.

If your child is struggling with a concept, “communicate with your child’s teacher,” she advises. Ask your teachers for a virtual meeting 1-2 times per week for your child so that he or she can provide instruction and take the pressure off of you, the parent, a few times per week. “Some students need to see their teacher and share their work with them so they know that distance learning is real and that it matters.”

In sum, minimize the guilt, anxiety and juggling by creating a consistent sleep and wake schedule, setting a limit for the number of hours of schoolwork for each day, integrate breaks, and give credence to daily family and life activities that promote engagement and connection.

 Dr. Liz Matheis is a clinical and school psychologist specializing in anxiety, ADHD, autism, learning disability and behavior management. She is also the parent of a child with a learning disability, anxiety and a sensory processing disorder. She is a mom of 3 and owner of her private practice with 5 employees, Psychological & Educational Consulting, LLC. She is a blogger and has been on several radio shows, as well as TV. Visit her here

If you have a child with special needs, please take this survey from Rutgers, which seeks to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affects families of children with autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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Share your opinions and make a difference: Help Rutgers understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affects families of children with autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder by taking this survey.