Four Crucial Steps to Balance Homeschool and Therapy for Your Child with Special Needs
With the school year in full swing, there are so many things to balance, so many plates to spin, for all parents. But for parents of children with special needs, there are plates upon plates, with some cups, forks, and a few spoons thrown in for good measure. Because, we’re not just getting our children ready for school, managing sports, and extracurricular activities, and trying (desperately) to stay organized with the homeschooling we’ve so carefully (or not) planned out for the year, we’re doing all of this while maintaining a schedule of therapy in and out of our home.
Regardless of the type of diagnosis, our children need more to thrive than some others, and therapy, tutoring, and outside support is critical to their success. Often this balancing act can leave us harried and in need of some therapy of our own (been there, paid for that). If you’re wondering how to balance homeschooling or school management and therapy schedules this year, read on. Because this knowledge came at a price (namely, my gray hairs), a price that you’ don’t have to pay!
How to Balance Homeschooling and Therapy Schedules
1. Choose your focus
School, work, therapy, sports, friendships, etc. We balance a lot on a daily basis and require our kiddos to do the same. But, the start of the school year comes with added pressures and stresses that aren’t normal. No matter who you are or what you’ve got going on, there’s only so much you and your child can handle before the stress of the situation undoes all of the hard work you’re putting in.
That’s why it’s so important to choose a focus during the beginning of the school year, or any season of higher stress. What are a few attainable goals in therapy and in academics that you can hone and commit to each day? List these out and focus your attention on these, and only these goals.
2. Go easy on yourself (and your therapist)
Change is hard and, even though school is a yearly change, it’s different each time. Consider where your child is at this moment. Can he or she handle the additional pressure of school and the therapy or support schedule you have going? If not, you may need to scale back the hours in therapy, or the time spent on studies. The point is, to be balanced, you need to be realistic about what you, your child and your therapist can accomplish during this season of change.
Be honest and open with your therapist about where you are and how your child is doing. Communicate early and as often as possible to ward off any unmet expectations or frustrations. And remember, most likely your therapist is dealing with many families just like yours- frazzled as the school year starts. Patience and a kind word go far.
3. Prioritize progress- it’s what matters most
I remember when my son started his second year of Kindergarten (best decision ever, by the way!). I just couldn’t get into my groove, and neither could he. I was complaining one night to my husband who responded, “well, what really matters right now, progress or performance?” Huh, I hadn’t really thought of that. I was so busy trying to make it all work (for a second time) that I hadn’t prioritized truly success truly was: progress.
Seeing my son succeed in any small way, from holding a pencil to forming a full sentence, was a huge victory at that point in our lives. I was so focused on the problems and getting set in our program and not on the progress he was making, little by little. So your child remembers his pencil when he comes to the table. Progress! She doesn’t cry when you leave her at therapy this week. Progress! During times of transition and change, it’s easy to focus on the goals and forget that it’s small victories that get us there. Focus on the progress, my friends. It will enable you to make it through the hard days while giving you the determination you need to keep pushing as you balance therapy, school, and life.
4. Take a season off
Balancing the additional weight that school brings to this time means picking your activities wisely and being strategic about what you want to accomplish, at least until you are all comfortable and set into the new routines.
When transitioning back to school and trying to find balance between school and therapy, there’s no shame in saying no. There have been many, many times when I should have cried “uncle” and paused a therapy session, put a subject aside for the month, or simply canceled everything until we were adjusted.
I didn’t stop because I was worried we’d lose momentum. But you have to remember, our children are learning so many things at one time. Academics, speech, and language, emotional and physical growth are all happening at the same time. If your child needs a break from one focus area, like speech or OT for a season, it’s ok! You’re focusing on progress in another area (like not crying every time you put a book in front of him!). We can’t expect our special needs children to progress in all areas at the same time. So, take time off, but set a date to begin again so that the progress you’ve made isn’t fully lost during your season of rest.
Above all else, remember what’s most important—the love you have for your child. Allow that love to fill you with compassion and calm as you enter what is sure to be a challenging transition for both of you. Encourage yourself and your child to remember what matters most: your love and commitment to one another as a family. Back to school battles are much more easily won as a team!