(The following post is written by True North Homeschool Academy Special Needs Instructor Amy Vickery.)
Talk to Me
For your children who struggle with academics, communication can be a challenge too. From finding the right words to express feelings, needs and wants, to be able to express themselves on paper, communication challenges come in many different forms. These challenges can change over time, showing up for a period of time and then disappearing, only to show up in a new way somewhere else. Here are some challenges your child may face, and some ways to help support their challenges.
Listening Comprehension Skills:
When dealing with communication, the first thing you have to consider is a child’s ability to understand what they hear. If they cannot follow simple directions, they may be struggling with listening comprehension rather than just being “difficult” or “ignoring” you. A child who struggles with listening comprehension is not going to understand what is being said in a conversation (may have a hard time staying on topic, or responding appropriately), and will likely not pick up naturally the conversational skills other children do.
Here are some suggestions for working on listening comprehension:
Give directions one step at a time. Once this is mastered, go to 2 steps at a time, then 3.
Keep directions short…use fewer words when possible.
Allow time to process the direction before saying anything else.
If you repeat the direction, don’t change how you said it. Say it exactly the same way again. Don’t change what you are saying until you know for sure they have heard you. When you change the words you are using, the brain takes it as new information, and begins processing it as a totally new direction. By using the same words, the brain can continue to process the information that it took in the first time you said it.
Our society has greatly changed over the past years. At one point, boys and men were not supposed to show or express emotions, to talk about feelings, or admit when they were hurt. Now our society expects everyone to be able to express feelings, empathize and otherwise understand complex emotions from a very young age. As a child with Autism, my son found this very difficult and continues to struggle with it at times.
Some ways I help him are:
Talking about my feelings and emotions
Asking questions when he seems to be unable to express himself or unaware of his emotions
Seeking outside help at times to help him work through his emotions and identify what may be going on.
Using emotion boards to allow nonverbal communication of feelings. This can also be done through art, drawing, writing, play and other forms of expression).
Be aware that emotional upset decreases a child’s ability to express emotions and thoughts, and will limit or stop learning completely.
Talking to strangers:
Some children can be overly shy while others can be overly friendly. Both are difficult situations to deal with at times.
Some ways to help with knowing how to talk to people:
Give suggestions (almost like a script) of how to introduce oneself, ask questions, talk about subjects interesting to your child and the other child, give compliments, accept compliments, etc. For some ideas, check out the Boystown Social Skills Posters.
If you have a child who is learning a social skill and needs reminders, set up a small cue that only the two of you know about (like a wink or holding up 1 finger, etc.), that you can do “secretly” to remind him.
Use a visual cue like “Social Circles” to help children who are overly friendly understand limits.
Our kids that are unique, different, and/or struggle sometimes have difficulty making or keeping friends.
Some ways to help:
Talk to them about how others feel and think as you interact with people in public, watch tv, and talk to one another.
Find something they are interested in, and find a class or a club involving that interest – or start one! (having something in common can be a beginning point for friendship).
Get involved with a church or family social organization that has a variety of kids of different ages and abilities.
Whatever stage of development your child is in, the ability to communicate is essential to navigating the social world. With a little help and support, even our children who struggle can learn to make and keep friends, communicate with individuals of all ages, and be able to advocate for themselves as they become more independent with time.
Amy Vickrey, MSE is a mother of a seven-year-old and almost three-year-old. Her homeschool journey began over 20 years ago when she saw how homeschooling enabled her sister who had memory issues and fell through the crack at school, to graduate and go to college. Amy knew then she wanted to implement what she saw – the love and individual attention – into her own teaching. She now homeschools her two boys and loves every minute of it! Having completed the second year of their homeschool journey, she is looking forward to many more to come!
Amy holds a Masters of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. Also, she spent 2 years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy and loves the discovery approach to learning. Teaching children how to learn will help them reach their goals and dreams.
Amy Vickrey states, “My passion for learning and being a lifelong learner is something I want to pass on to the children I teach, as well as my own children. Making learning fun and engaging is an important part of this process. My goal is to lift others up to help them achieve their own goals and dreams.”
When homeschooling a struggling learner, communication can be difficult, to say the least. Without healthy communication, it will be impossible to help your child, let alone teach them effectively so that they make real progress.
As a parent to an Asperger son who struggles in several areas, I have been blessed with a child who communicates effectively. I have learned a lot from him and our journey these last 11 years as a homeschooling family that has been characterized by a close relationship. I learned this from a great resource I frequently use, AspergerExperts.com. The founder, who is a young man with Aspergers, teaches about what he calls defense mode and how to get your child out of it.
So what makes the difference? Let me share these five key communication strategies to help you with YOUR struggling learner.
1) Intentionally enter their world.
I must have instinctively known this because it’s something I’ve always done. I take note of my son’s interests, and I come alongside him to learn and listen.
Whether that was building legos with him or playing cars when he was young or even attempting to play a video game, I make it a point to spend time doing what he loves. This builds trust.
Trust is a foundation of communication, which leads me to the second point:
2) Spend time with your struggling learner APART from school.
Years ago I learned that my son VALUES spending time with me. To him, going out to lunch or coffee together satisfies him the most. So I’ve made a point of going out once a week with him for coffee or lunch. Sometimes we take school with us and do school after our food comes. Other times, we just talk.
Regardless, taking this time together on a regular basis sends the message to him that I value his company and this has helped our schooling tremendously.
3) Actively listen.
It’s so easy as a parent to get defensive and feel like you’ve failed. I’ve been there many, many times. But when I take the time to LISTEN to my son and what he has to say, I can truly understand what’s going on with him.
Case in point: several months ago I had him evaluated at LearningRx, and we found out he struggles with visual processing. Several weeks after we were working on school he told me: he CANNOT visualize and that made him upset. I didn’t realize, and so for all those years, I was mistakenly approaching school. I had been using a lot of visual resources rather than audio ones. I had completely missed it!
But because I actively listened to what my son was saying, I finally understood, and now we’re using more audio resources.
4) Treat your child with respect.
Respect goes both ways. Of course as parents we deserve respect, but children need and deserve our respect. What does this mean practically?
It means little things like give your struggling learner advance warning. For instance, rather than demanding my son stop everything he is doing right now instantly, I give him at least a fifteen-minute warning. Or I will give him choices. Like, “Hey, would you like to do school at 10 or 10:30?”
And always always have empathy. I learned this most from Love and Logic. LEAD with empathy and mean it, especially if your son or daughter has made a wrong decision or they are struggling in a minor way. Because you never, never want to minimize their feelings or tell them they are not feeling a certain way. That will lead to them shutting down and not trusting you. Feelings are feelings and perceptions are reality.
So just saying a simple “I’m sad for you” when your child is struggling can go a long way!
5) Be consistent.
Now I confess I have a hard time with this, but it’s so important. When your child is having a hard time or being defiant, making empty threats is only going to make your situation worse. You’re training your child to ignore you until that moment when your tone gets serious, and they know they have to obey.
Communicating up front your expectations, and the consequences if these expectations are not met, is so important. And then follow through! And don’t threaten something that’s not realistic or will hurt you in the long run!
Communication is so important when teaching a struggling learner. In fact, communication is essential in EVERY aspect of life. These keys will not only help you with your child but will assist in all areas of your life!
Dana Susan Beasley,a graphic artist, writer, and musician, is principal/publisher/program director of AngelArts. Dedicated to providing excellently-designed ebooks, books, homeschooling curriculum, cards, stationery, gifts, and art services to homeschooling families, inspirational artists, entrepreneurs, and art enthusiasts, Dana delights in sharing her gifts and talents and the talents of others with people who are passionate about spiritual, personal, educational, professional, ministrial, artistic, and relational growth.
Married to Travis Beasley, Dana is a homeschooling mother to her Asperger son, Sam. She helped her husband start his architectural business, Essential Pillar Architecture, and assists him with marketing and administration.
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