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How to homeschool your child with special needs during crisis

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Mother and young son sitting at a kitchen table, drawing and giggling together

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. How should I prepare?
2. How to tailor for different needs?
3. What are the most important things to remember?

During a prolonged crisis, such as post-hurricane recovery or sheltering at home through a quarantine, parents of special needs children may find themselves filling in as temporary teachers.

Local experts share some strategies here but offer reassurance that parents are natural instructors simply because they know their children best.


The first part of preparation is managing expectations — of yourself, your child and your situation. Home is not school, and you shouldn’t expect to instruct for multiple hours a day. Stress levels are higher, so your child may not focus as well. Plus, you’re juggling even more responsibilities, so don’t aim for perfection.

Also, recognize the limitations of distance learning. Although virtual technology allows teachers to engage with students, it can create obstacles for children who have difficulty typing, who don’t like computers or who don’t have access to technology, says Sharon Alexander, chief executive officer of the Unicorn Children’s Foundation in Boca Raton. The foundation is creating educational materials on how to use distance learning for special needs. To learn more about Unicorn Children's Foundation, click here

She recommends working closely with teachers to customize solutions and suggests finding support through the Special Needs Advisory Coalition of Palm Beach County or by calling 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast.


Individuals with special needs rely on routines with clear milestones, so create an easy-to-follow visual schedule. Below is a breakdown for more specific needs:  

For attention issues

Use a timer to give students starting and stopping points. This allows for breaks from the computer, says Susanna Launder, clinical support specialist at Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities in Boca Raton. Break up longer assignments into smaller chunks.

For slower processing

Be consistent, repetitive and allow extra time.

“Say you want your child to answer five math problems on the computer,” Launder says. “Prompt them to start the problems and wait at least 10 seconds to prompt again. When we change the language, we send them back to square one. Be very repetitive, use the same words and give them plenty of time to process.”

For organizational issues

Launder stresses to be realistic about organization because those skills are not fully developed until early adulthood. Rely on the visual schedule or checklist because it’s concrete, and students can check off their accomplishments, such as “brush teeth/put away toothbrush,” “read for five minutes,” “complete three math problems,” etc.


When your special needs child achieves a moment of success – no matter how small – celebrate it.

“If you notice they are sticking with things longer, give them praise and lots of positive reinforcement, which builds self-efficacy and self-determination,” Launder says.

She and Alexander say maintaining a positive relationship is the most important thing.

“At the end of the day, give yourself some grace,” Launder says. “You’re keeping your baby alive, keeping them safe, and if that’s all you’re going to accomplish today, that’s OK.”


• Sharon Alexander, chief executive officer, Unicorn Children’s Foundation
• Susanna Launder, clinical support specialist, Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities 



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