Little Steps continues to dive deep into the hot and heavy topic of homeschooling, but this time with a focus on kids with special needs, i.e. learning differences. We spoke with the team from ChiLD, Dr. Alexandra Sanderson, Helen Handley, and Lisa Low – experts in supporting children with learning differences, their communities, as well as the gifted and talented.
The ChiLD team is passionate about uncovering the individual child’s unique abilities and collaborating with those around them to adapt their approach to suit the child, who can then fulfill their potential! ChiLD provides a range of services, but the most success comes from a combination of all three: psychoeducational assessments, parent workshops, and training for schools and the community. This work has given them incredible insight into both the diversity of needs and the school system, which provided for an incredibly insightful and empowering chat that all parents and kids can benefit from.
To learn more, watch our FB Live below, read on, and visit their website!
Everyone learns differently and has both strengths and weaknesses, but if your kid’s differences are significantly impacting learning, they are considered to have learning differences or, officially, neurodevelopmental disorders. These are brain-based disorders with onset before the age of 18, depending on the need. They have nothing to do with parenting, but early intervention is key, so never hesitate to consult experts and teachers if you sense something might be "wrong".
The DSM lists ADHD, autism, specific learning disorders (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia), intellectual disabilities (IQ-related and adaptive functioning), communication disorders and motor disorders in this category.
Identifying the strengths of the child is crucial, so you can play to their strengths or interests. Compassion is key, both for the child and yourself - give yourself the time to accept and understand your child’s learning differences.
Start understanding where your child comes from by understanding their working memory (capacity) - how they hold on to information and manipulate what they see and hear. If there's too much information, or only information of the kind that doesn't suit the child (visual, auditory, etc.), learning suffers because of cognitive overload. Finding ways to externalize working memory and make the information as concrete as possible (turning it into pictures, objects, or employing a step-by-step approach) can be of great help.
When it comes to behavior, an incredibly helpful approach is ABC - Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence observation. Learn more about our interview above!
STORY 1: There was an interesting case of a boy whose profile came out as gifted, but his processing skills came out as average. This means that in school, his reaction to a question asked could be interpreted as him not knowing the answer, while all he needs is more time to process the question before giving an unusually thoughtful answer. A lack of this understanding of this child's individual need could lead to a wrong impression, followed by over-explaining and a loss of confidence in his own abilities. Adapting to this child's learning needs can be providing him with questions in advance so he has time to prepare his answer.
STORY 2: Another is a case of a girl with dyslexia in secondary school. She struggled with homeschooling as she missed the visual aspect of learning - most materials were reading/language-based. Teachers can be informed of such needs and diversify the materials they offer - which can also help other kids with unidentified learning differences or simply different strengths.
STORY 3: Different schools and curriculums have also approached homeschooling in different ways, and one of them employed a model similar to the Integrated Curriculum Model used to teach gifted students. This school took the whole of Year 7 and approached the learning in a cross-disciplinary way, integrating what they were doing in, for example, PE into Science, English, Maths, and vice versa. The same information is used in different ways, which then differentiates learning all the way through!