Parent Tips

Parent Tip #1

Tips for Families in Supporting Their Children with Disabilities in a “Virtual World”

First, remember that your role is a parental one. Your child needs family.

• Teachers are still teaching, just in a virtual format, and with a different schedule. It can be confusing for students if families try to assume the role of teacher. If you have been a “home school” family before the COVID-19 outbreak, you will still pose significant challenges as outside meetings will likely become virtual ones or not existent at all.

• Explain to your child that their teacher is still their teacher, and that you are in communication with the teacher to help them learn at home. While you may feel more pressure with your child at home, try to think of it as a different way of helping your child with learning.

Adapted from Florida Inclusion Network

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Parent Tip #2

Set up a comfortable space in your home for learning. While school closure for COVID-19 is temporary situation, it is likely that it may be extended as needed to keep people safe.

• Choose a non-distracting space in your home to set up a learning space. Some of our students need a quiet area in their room, while others need oversight and frequent assistance.

• Remember that it is not necessary for your child to sit at a table in order to learn. Pillows, a floor space, lying on the couch, or even a yoga ball might provide additional comfort for your child while learning. Students with sensory needs can be supported in this way. Frequent changes in setting can help the students stay focused for longer amounts of time.

• Think about what your child will need in order to learn and plan around those needs. Once you have a space, gather supplies such as notebooks, pencils, calculators, or any type of supportive or assistive devices your child needs, and make sure they are nearby. Be proactive and anticipate how they may look to avoid doing nonpreferred tasks.

Adapted from Florida Inclusion Network

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Parent Tip #3

Establish a schedule. Schedules are important for you and for your child, especially if you are also working from home. Set clear expectations and goals with your child.

• Keep bedtime and daily routines intact, and work with your family to establish a daily schedule for learning at home. For some students that might mean following their classroom schedule as closely as possible, especially if their class is meeting virtually through ZOOM or other methods.

• Some schedules and goals may need to be visual. Ask your child’s teacher for the class’s schedule, post it, and stick to it as closely as you can. Some students will need support, such as social stories, to make even minor adjustments to the schedule, so be patient and as consistent as you can. Post clear goals that you and your child have agreed to.

• You may need a daily chart, so that your child can check off each item as they complete it. Cutting apart the schedule, writing or snapping a picture of the start and end times for each section, and taping up one item at a time next to the clock may also help your child visualize the day and the progress toward his or her goals. (be sure to establish the goals they are willing and able to work towards)

Adapted from Florida Inclusion Network

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Parent Tip #4

Allow breaks and time for recess. Most children don’t have long attention spans, and this can be even more likely for students with disabilities. Many students’ individual education plans (IEPs) include accommodations for frequent breaks, and this will apply to home learning as well.

• Breaks are good times to allow your child access to their preferred activities or to have snacks.

• Recess (physical exercise) is also extremely important, even though it may look a little different at home. If your child cannot play outside, you can use exercise programs for video game consoles, or access video channels from YouTube or If your child receives physical or occupational therapy, you can use their therapist’s suggestions for at-home exercises.

• It is a good idea to use a timer to indicate the end of a break. If your child needs a visual timer, you can download one here:

Adapted from Florida Inclusion NetworkDownload Parent Tip 4 PDF

Parent Tip #5

Limit distractions. Siblings, gaming devices, tablets, television shows, or other distractions are likely to take your child’s attention away from schoolwork.

• Try to limit distractors to scheduled break times. Set a timer to signal the end of a break.

• Try playing music with 50-80 beats per minute in the background, such as classical music, (if your child does not find it distracting) nature sounds, or video game music (without the visuals, of course). Music has been found to have a positive impact on productivity and concentration. You might find that music helps you focus more and be productive, too!

Adapted from Florida Inclusion Network

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Parent Tip #6

Allow and Encourage Socialization. Although playdates are not recommended, you should find ways for your child to interact with family, friends and classmates.

• Allow video chats or FaceTime. You may have to work with other families to set this up, depending on your child’s age or ability to do this independently. Even for teens, sometimes texting or social media just isn’t enough.

• In addition, reserve or schedule some time for your immediate and extended family to interact and bond, even if it is virtually.

Adapted from Florida Inclusion Network

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Parent Tip #7

Provide time away from screens. Eye strain, screen glare, and not moving cause fatigue.

• Using virtual learning platforms should include off-screen time with books, drawing, writing, and other mediums of learning. Your child may need to have pages printed out, or have a hard copy of textbooks, in order to use removable highlighter tape or reading guide strips, as needed.

• Reinforce the lesson content through activities and hands-on experiences at home. Students with disabilities and virtually all students will benefit from making these connections.

Adapted from Florida Inclusion NetworkDownload Parent Tip 7 PDF

Parent Tip #8

Find or create support networks. You are not alone. Everyone is experiencing this, so reaching out can provide you with new resources, ideas, or just plain comfort.

• Your child’s teacher(s), related service providers, therapists, and other professionals are still available to you to provide what is needed to help your child learn, even if it looks different from what they usually do. They are working hard to be creative with ways to provide services to students with disabilities in a virtual format.

• Other families are also experiencing the same challenges. If you do not have access to a family virtual group, contact the teachers and other professionals to request that one be created so that you can connect with others to share experiences and solutions.

Adapted from Florida Inclusion Network

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Parent Tip #9

Ask for help. While we are practicing physical distancing and families and teachers are doing their best to continue education, many agencies and organizations are temporarily suspending fees for their online resources so that there are plenty of resources.

• School and district websites, organizations for students with disabilities, and social media have provided increased access to websites and programs to support learning for students with and without disabilities. Too many resources can also be overwhelming, so select just one or two, and see how it goes.

• Resources will also be shared by your child’s teacher(s) and support providers. If you need suggestions, or something isn’t going well, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Adapted from Florida Inclusion Network

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Parent Tip #10

Be patient – with your child, with the system, with teachers, and with yourself.

This is an unusual time, and nobody is perfect.

There will be meltdowns, technology challenges, and unanswered questions.

Do your absolute best with everything you do today.

But tomorrow is a new day, so stay positive, healthy and focused.

Adapted from Florida Inclusion Network

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Parent Tip #11

Support Understanding

Individuals with autism and ADHD may have varied levels of understanding about the COVID-19 virus, how it spreads, and how to reduce risk of exposure. Here are several strategies to use to provide additional meaning to this complex scenario.

Describe the virus and current situation (e.g. closures, social distancing) in concrete language and terms and avoid flowery or abstract phrasing. The understanding of abstract phrases and metaphors such as “she is under the weather”, “she caught the virus”, and “he is scared stiff about this” can be difficult for individuals with autism and can create confusion
(Lipsky, 2013).

Using direct and clear language is recommended. Though stark-sounding, phrases like “The coronavirus is a type of germ. These germs are very tiny, and when they get inside your body, they can make you sick”

But tomorrow is a new day, so stay positive, healthy and focused.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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Parent Tip #12

Using visuals and stories to help our kids understand what is happening.

• Use a social narrative, otherwise known as a “social story” which is an individualized story that clarifies a situation and possible responses through modified text, photos, or the use of technology (Wong et al., 2014).

• Individuals on the autism spectrum and often those with ADHD and communication disorders may benefit from receiving information in multiple formats, as they often have receptive language deficits (Mody et al., 2013).

• To create a social story or social narratives, parents can look at examples created by individuals about COVID-19, help our kids understand how to reduce risk, provide insight into how they may be feeling, and offer assurance that those feelings are normal. Reading the narratives to/with the child regularly across several days is helpful. Revisit and adjust as needed and circumstances shift.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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Parent Tip #13

Social Stories for children about COVID-19

• Social Story for YoungLearners (Prek-2): This is a social story that provides simple pictures and a limited amount of words for young students to understand why they do not have pre-school or daycare.

• Basic Picture Social Story Social Story: This is a social story with pictures that describe the virus. This social story provides step by step ways to keep safe with clean hygiene practice and interaction with peers.

• My Coronavirus Story Social Story: This is another social story that uses pictures and words to describe the virus. Additionally, this also discusses how schools may close.

• All About COVID-19 Social Story: Here’s a free social story and comprehension check, with pictures, that can be downloaded for free from Teachers Pay Teachers. (You have to register, but it’s free.)

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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  • Offering visual cues to clarify the passage of time may be helpful. Individuals with “learning differences” may have trouble perceiving the passage of time, an invisible concept, and the use of a monthly, weekly, and/or daily calendar may assist in tracking time out of school/in a quarantine situation.
  • While we do not know an “end” date to today’s uncertainty, marking the passage of time as well as including favorite activities, such as shows, online meetups, or game night on the calendar can be a helpful coping strategy.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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  • Consider providing multiple opportunities for family members to express their feelings as they are able—through family and individual discussions, writing activities, movie making, or play.
  • Feelings and needs may be communicated through alternate forms of expression such as the use of augmentative and alternative communication (e.g. iPad, pictures), listening or playing music, dance, yoga, and various visual art forms.
  • In addition, recognize that an increase in challenging behaviors may be an expression of anxiety or fear, and consider if support strategies in place are adequate, otherwise you may want to reach out for professional help

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development

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  • Prioritize Coping and Calming Skills Supporting individuals with “learning differences” to learn coping, self management, and self-care skills is a priority during this time of uncertainty.
  • Ideally, individuals with “learning differences” have some coping and calming strategies in their repertoire of skills to access with support during their most anxious times. These may include rocking in a rocking chair, listening to music on headphones, deep breathing, watching a preferred video clip, brief periods of vigorous exercise, or accessing a favorite activity or material. If coping or calming strategies are not yet part of the routine, parents can prioritize the teaching of these skills during this time of uncertainty.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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How to Teach Coping and Calming Skills

  • Strategically choose times of the day when the child is calm to initiate the instruction
  • Create a concrete and visual routine to support the use of these strategies. Many free apps are available for calming strategies and guided meditations such as Calm, Headspace, Breathe2Relax, Pacifica, and RainRain.
  • Ensure that the individual with “learning differences” has ample access to these calming activities.
  • Coping/calming activities may be scheduled regularly across the day in the initial weeks of changes, then, if appropriate, parents may introduce and teach a self-management plan that helps individuals track their anxious or worried responses and identify when the calming strategies are required.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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  • Exercise/physical activity is a proven strategy to reduce anxiety symptoms with the broader population, as well as with individuals with “learning differences”.
  • Consider establishing/adding basic exercise routines for the family such as wearing a FitBit and counting daily steps, a nightly walk, or an online/app based workout. Many sites are offering free access during this time, such as the Down Dog yoga app, Nike Run Club, and Facebook Live streams from Planet Fitness.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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Maintain Routines

  • While it is important to create time and space for all family members to process uncertainty, individuals with “learning differences” may cope best when daily routines are only minimally interrupted. Routines can provide increased comfort for individuals with autism and other “learning differences” (Faherty, 2008) and may allow them to better express their feelings related to the changes.
  • For example, instead of skipping a Friday night movie tradition because of increased screen time at other times during the week, choose a movie that can facilitate a conversation about the changes, loss, and/or associated feelings (e.g. Inside Out, Finding Dory). Combining the stress of the COVID-19 related changes with the addition of changed routines–especially if the new activities are nebulous or unstructured–could potentially exasperate or extend the adjustment process (Lipsky, 2013). Important routines to maintain will be discussed in following days.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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Maintain Routines

  • Sleep/wake routines: Maintaining physical health is key for all family members and ensuring proper sleep is an important contributor. Sleep disturbances are more common in individuals with autism, thus extra attention may be required to support good sleep hygiene and maintain bedtime and waking routines (see more
  • Household chores/daily living skills:Participating in structured household chores and routines is a recommended strategy to support children and young adults coping with stress related to COVID-19 ( Individuals with autism and other “learning differences” may need additional supports, such as a task analysis, to be able to participate in and/or complete these activities.
  • Expanding the use of a visual schedule, and using one more regularly throughout the day, may help facilitate participation in activities at home and reduce anxiety. Many caregivers use elements of a visual schedule already (e.g. a calendar on the refrigerator, a list of errand locations, a photo of which therapist is coming to visit) and these can be extended for use across the day. The format and length of the schedule may vary based on the individual’s needs, and several examples are included.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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  • Another visual transition strategy to use is a visual countdown system. Like the visual timer, a visual countdown allows an individual to “see” how much time is remaining in an activity. The countdown differs, however, because there is no specific time increment used. This tool is beneficial if the timing of the transition needs to be flexible (e.g. caregiver would like the child to stay engaged on the device during a work call but doesn’t know when it will end).
  • A countdown system can be made with numbered or colored squares or sticky notes, or any shape or style that is meaningful to the individual. As the transition nears, the caregiver can pull off or cross off the top item (e.g. the number 5) so the individual is able to see that only 4 items remain. The caregiver decides how quickly or slowly to remove the remaining items depending on when the transition will occur. Two minutes may elapse between the removal of number 3 and number 2, while a longer amount of time may elapse before the final number is removed. Once the final item is removed, the individual is taught that it is time to transition. Several examples are provided, and these can be used to support any transition.
  • Offer choices.In a time of crisis, when most people feel like so much is out of their control, providing choices can increase a sense of autonomy and motivation. Creating regular opportunities across the day where family members have a voice about what happens and when it happens can serve as an effective anxiety reducing strategy and a communication tool. These choices might include the route for the nightly walk, meal options, order of activities for the day, and/or preferences for activities. Several examples are provided for use across the day and age range.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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Creating a work space with a to-do list

  • For the first time, many children and young adults will be expected to complete schoolwork in the home setting. Individuals with “learning differences” may have difficulty generalizing the strategies and skills they used in the school environment to the home environment (e.g. organizing materials, attending to work activities, submitting assignments online). Thus, it will be helpful to establish a designated workspace to help clarify expectations and reduce distractions. This may be a spot at the dining room table designated by a colored placemat and facing away from the television or window. If multiple children are working in one space, consider adding a small visual divider (e.g. an open folder) between them. Parents can create a visual “to-do” list in several different ways—
  1. placing the individual worksheets to be completed on the child’s left and a small basket on the child’s right to put them in when they are finished, or
  2. writing a short list on a sticky note of the tasks to accomplish during the work session (e.g. 1 science story and 15 minutes of ABC Mouse). These can be crossed off when they are finished. Older children and young adults can likely generate their own to-do lists but may need some initial support to establish a workspace and launch these routines.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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Foster Connections (From a Distance)

  • Individuals with autism and other “learning differences” are more susceptible to social isolation and loneliness, and this may be exacerbated by quarantine conditions. Positive social support is important for everyone during this period, and individuals with autism may need more explicit facilitation to ensure that social connections continue. Parents  may need to check in to ensure social contact is continuingvia video, text or direct messaging, and/or build in opportunities for daily social contact with family, friends, neighbors, teachers, or others via FaceTime, What’s App, Google Hangout, ZOOM, Marco Polo, or other apps. Scheduling time to connect with others via online platforms to attend religious services, play chess, participate in socially engaged gaming, complete online schoolwork, or virtually volunteer are ways to safely promote social interaction and stave off isolation. Several examples provide support around using apps that can foster connectedness.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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Be Aware of Changing Behaviors

  • Individuals with autism or other “learning differences” may not be able to verbally express their fear, frustration, and anxiety about the many changes and/or their health, so these expressions may be demonstrated through other means. Parents should be aware of the behavior of their children during these uncertain times and be alert for signs of anxiety and depression.
  • These may include a change in sleeping or eating patterns, increases in repetitive behaviors, excessive worry or rumination, increased agitation or irritability, or decreases in self-care (Hedges, White, & Smith, 2014, 2015). If these behavior changes are observed, additional support from mental health and/or medical providers such as a family doctor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist may be warranted. The individual may require more support or different types of support (e.g., regular therapy, regular exercise, medication).
  • Most mental health providers and non-urgent care medical providers are offering services via telehealth, and emergency legislation has expanded insurance coverage (including Medicaid) for these options.

Adapted from (AFIRM) is an extension of the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on ASD

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Make Connections

  • Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important.
  • Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience.
  • Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope.
  • Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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Insurmountable Problems

Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations. Share your positive experiences with your children.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting
circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

Spend time talking with your children about obstacles they have overcome and share some of your own experiences.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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Move toward your goals. Help your children move toward their goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables youto move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” Teach your children to do the same.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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Take Action
Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away. Practice being in the moment, teach your children to do the same.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
  • People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss.
  • Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life.
  • Your children may have the ability to do this.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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Self Image

  • Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  • Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
  • Play games with your children where they can see that they are problem solvers.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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Keep Things in Perspective

  • Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a longterm perspective.
  • Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
  • Help your child identify ways in which the current situation can develop in a positive direction.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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• Maintain a hopeful outlook.

  • An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life.
  • Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
  • This is a great family activity, try it.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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You First

  • Take care of yourself.
  • Pay attention to your own needs and feelings.
  • Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
  • Teach your child how to take care of themselves, while caring about others (it’s a balancing act)

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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Build Resilience

  • Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful.
  • For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life.
  • Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.

Adapted from American Psychological Association

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Asking Kids Questions

  • When we want to know what our kids are feeling, the question that has to be asked is “what are you feeling?”, not how are you?
  • Modeling and role playing, both, can be used to improve skills such as listening and how to stay on topic, both essential to effective answering of questions.

Download Parent Tip 37 PDF

What Are You Saying

• We can use the “pause button” on the TV remote to provide the child with the opportunity to answer a question a TV character may ask one another, then have the opportunity to see how the character really answered the question.

• Watch how you speak. Avoid being critical and shaming. ALL children mimic our behaviors (usually at the most inopportune times).

• When necessary, seek support from outside resources, including guidance staff, teachers, individual counseling and other professionals.

Adapted from Support for Students Growth Center, SSG lessons © 2020

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  • Our children can often contribute significantly to social situations because they are often extremely creative and provide a unique perspective to any situation.
  • Parents and teachers can nurture the “perceptual differences” and encourage the child to express themselves in a way that their peers and others accept.
  • We do not want to silence their creativity, it is their gift to the world, but we do want them learn to listen to what others say to be able to “fit in” with their peers.

Adapted from materials posted by the American Psychological Association

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Following Cues to Transitioning

  • Our children may have difficulty moving from one activity to the next, following directions, physically and emotionally.
  • As our child experiences transitioning activities their anxiety level will likely increase. Thus, they may need to be coached through the transition.
  • Use visual schedules and/or role-playing to help the child prepare for moving on to the next activity.
  • At home, parents can prepare our child to be effective at listening to improve their transitioning skills by creating situations, i.e., stopping playing a game and starting another activity, where intense listening is required to help the child become more effective at transitioning.

Adapted from materials posted by the American Psychological Association

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Positive Reinforcement

  • Positive reinforcement often works well for our children.
  • When they accomplish a desired behavior, such as listening, compliment and praise them.
  • Even simple social interactions should be praised.
  • Seek out opportunities to provide praise to help foster a stable self- image.

Adapted from materials posted by the American Psychological Association

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Paying Attention

It is not always intentional, in the classroom, and other settings, our child’s behaviors related to paying attention and listening to the teacher or others may include, but are not limited to:

  • Conversations and activities only center around themselves
  •  Inability to usually socially appropriate tone and/or volume of speech
  • Lack of empathy for others
  • Lack of facial expressions
  • May be teased, bullied or isolated by peers
  • Impulsive behavior including calling out
  • Often overly verbal, may interfere with others conversations
  •  Poor eye contact
  • Talking about only one subject/topic and missing the cues that others are bored

Adapted from Support for Students Growth Center, SSG lessons © 2020

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  • Help with transitioning. At home, parents can help prepare our child to be effective at taking directions to transition between activities by creating simulations, i.e., , cue the child to stop one activity in preparation of starting another activity.
  • Be sure to ask the child to repeat the directions they heard you give before going on to the next activity.
  • Discuss the importance and value of listening to and following directions.

Adapted from Support for Students Growth Center, SSG lessons © 2020

Download Parent Tip 44 PDF

Making Friends

  • Parents should share your concerns with your child’s teachers and other adults who support them and ask that they help facilitate social interactions involving your child in recreational settings as well as in the virtual and “real-life” classroom.
  • Rehearse various social scenarios with your child so that they can practice approaching children to ask them to play or interact. In person is best, virtual if necessary.

Adapted from Support for Students Growth Center, SSG lessons © 2020

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Social Development

• Using social stories may be a good way to teach effective social skills.

• Social stories are stories that address a specific behavior, and give concrete, easy to understand, appropriate ways to act in a situation.

• The story can be customized to your child’s behaviors.

Adapted from Support for Students Growth Center, SSG lessons © 2020

Download Parent Tip 46 PDF

Help Kids to Make Friends, During a Pandemic

  • Utilize TV/movie watching time with family, to “pause” the action and discuss situations where friends are potentially being made.
  • Explore when and how friends are being made, along with opportunities for friend making.
  • Parents, encourage your children to look at situations from the other person’s perspective.

Download Parent Tip 47 PDF

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