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Terri Mauro
BY Terri Mauro

10 Reasons Homework Works for Students with Special Needs

Ugh, homework! Parents hate the stuff almost as much as kids, and kids hate it a lot. When you have a child with special learning needs, homework can transform from an unpleasant nagging chore to hours of frustration spent at the table together, trying to make connections that just won’t line up. It doesn’t help if you’re sandwiching homework time in among therapist appointments and doctor visits.

Still, although you may be able to make a case against homework for your child and get teachers and IEP teams to take it off the table, think twice about doing that. There are some upsides to those infernal assignments. Homework provides …

1. A firsthand view of what your child is being taught.

What does your child do in school all day? Without homework coming home, you really have no way of knowing what is being taught, how it’s being taught, or if it’s being taught. Homework is your promise that some academic work is being done with your child. That’s important regardless of the setting your child is learning in — inclusion, self-contained, resource room, or what-all.

2. A way to compare what’s in the IEP to what’s being taught.

You sat through a meeting and you agreed on academic goals for your child. Without homework, you have no real idea whether those goals are being addressed or met. Next meeting, you’re going to have to take people’s word for whether your child is succeeding or not. You’ll want to have some independent verification, and homework is an easy way to get it.

3. A sample to provide when challenging what’s being taught and how it compares to the IEP.

If you feel the assignments that are coming home are not appropriate to the IEP goals you’ve agreed on — if they seem like meaningless busy work, or way above your child’s tested ability level, or seemingly unrelated to what you expect your child to be doing — make copies. Ask the teacher and the IEP team to explain to you what’s up.

4. An opportunity to see where your child struggles.

One of the most excruciating things about doing homework with your child with special needs is seeing how hard simple things can be, and how even with real effort and as much help as you can give, the skill is unattainable. But you want to have that experience — so if someone tells you your child has attained that skill or is doing great in class, you can ask “Really?” and “How?” (Maybe the teacher has a magic wand you can use!)

5. An opportunity to see where your child does just fine.

Conversely, if you witness your child doing things well at home and then hear constantly that it’s unattainable in the classroom, you’ll want to hand your magic wand over — or question what in the classroom might be disturbing or distracting your child from doing the work in that environment. Plus, if an IEP team says a goal’s not been reached that you know has been, you can speak up.

6. A way to figure out what grade level your child is working on.

Particularly if your child is in a self-contained classroom, you may have trouble finding out what grade level your child’s schoolwork is on. On the one hand, you want your child to work on his or her own comfortable level, and it may seem nice not to tag exactly how behind that is. Still, it’s a good fact to know, particularly as you get those IEP evaluation scores that do quantify delays. Compare what your child is doing to Common Core standards. If textbooks or assigned books don’t have a grade level on them, run a sample through an online readability checker.

7. Insight into the way teachers teach today.

If it’s been, let’s just say, a while since you’ve been in school, you may be surprised at how math is being taught, and how much more history there is, and the kind of reading that’s out there for young people. Getting that stuff home now and then can give you an idea of why your child might be having a hard time and research what to do about it.

8. An opportunity to practice, practice, practice.

Many kids with special learning needs benefit from repeating things over and over and over again. If you can knock off some of those repetitions at home, theoretically the teacher can move on to new things more quickly. Additional reinforcement can only help.

9. A chance to collaborate and improve things for your child.

Just because you want homework doesn’t mean that the homework you get is always going to work. It may be that less homework, a different type of homework, fewer repetitions, less writing and more verbal practice, math problems in boxes instead of muddled together on a worksheet, fewer choices on a multiple choice, or some other variation will reinforce learning without causing overload. Instead of complaining to the teacher about homework, approach it collaboratively and see if you can find something that works for everybody, including you the stressed-out parent.

10. One peer-typical thing, no sweat.

For better or for worse, homework is a rite of childhood. It’s a part of pretty much any book or TV show or movie about childhood. There are many aspects of a typical childhood that your child may not be able to participate or relate to. Don’t let hatred of homework be one of those.

Terri Mauro

Written on January 16, 2017 by:

Terri Mauro is a former blog manager for Friendship Circle and Parenting Special Needs guide for She is the author of 50 Ways to Support Your Child's Special Education and The Everything Parents Guide to Sensory Processing Disorder. You can read more of her work on her website Mothers With Attitude and listen to her every weekday on the Parenting Roundabout Podcast. Terri has two children with special needs adopted from Russia in 1994.