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Esther Leung
BY Esther Leung

4 easy ways to interact with your special needs child at home

There are countless different structures that exist in the homes of a family with a child or adult with special needs. Some parents work all day, commute home and pick up their children from school or after care. Some families structures have one parent working and one parent staying home to take care of the kids. And there are many more family setups, as every family, and every child, is unique.

Regardless of the circumstance, we are challenged with balancing day-to-day responsibilities and with the desire to help our child with special needs.  Home is our place of rest; that is, once dinner is taken care of and the dishes are clear and homework is done and therapy exercises…and the list goes on.

When there is so much to juggle, it can be difficult to think of the therapeutic approach in dealing with the children and adults with disabilities in our homes .   Often times, we respond after the fact, when we see him/her doing something that they should not be doing.   Usually when this happens, we are met with resistance or disinterest.

Here are some simple suggestions for anyone living with an individual with special needs:

1. Show them what to do

If your child gets a hold of something that is not a toy, show them what to do with it or show them where the item belongs.  They may be holding it because they are curious in the item.  It is likely that they are not sure what to do with the item and are experimenting on their own. Instead of taking it away, use it as an opportunity to teach.

2. Limit favorite activities

There are certain activities or toys that the individual will spend hours and hours on.  Popular examples are television, video games and the computer.  While these can be good motivators and can occupy their attention, the absorption in these activities will usually lead to problems later when you are trying to end the activity.

Make some clear rules about how long and how often they can spend time with electronics, or whatever their favorite activity may be.  When it’s time to change activities, give them warnings.  Help them find something to do next – this is very important because it can be hard to think of ideas after a favourite activity.

3. Do something together

 Believe it or not, your child wants to be near you and the rest of the family.  They may not be able to express it in the ways that we expect, but a person with special needs appreciates being included.

If they aren’t ready to participate in the activity, take the time to show them what you are doing.  Label and describe your activity.  They may not jump in right away, but they are listening or hearing.  Then, you can slowly encourage them to participate in small ways.

4. Set activities out

Often individuals with special needs need help coming up with ideas of what to do.   They are not always likely to communicate that they need help to find something to do.   Put activities or toys of interest in accessible places all over their environment.  If the toys and activities are clearly laid out, there is a higher chance they will engage in the activity.  This will provide something to do no matter where the individual is in the house.   You can rotate the activities after some time to keep the activities interesting.

To make it easier to plan and remember, try to avoid treating these as quick strategies for certain behaviors.  Use these ideas as guiding principles to enhance the relationship you have with the person with special needs in your life at home.

Esther Leung

Written on August 9, 2012 by:

Esther Leung is a special needs consultant who has worked with children, youth and families. She has 15 years of experience in a variety of settings including homes, childcare, schools and recreational settings. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and 2 young boys.