Home Schooling Children With Special Needs During Covid-19

By Gemma Creagh - Last update

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The latest blog from the Portobello Institute, features vital information on home schooling children with special needs during Covid-19. Read more here:

As we move towards the Easter Break, and into the 4th week of school closures; many families who have children with SEN are facing not only school closure, but also the suspension of vital services that their children normally receive. This can be an overwhelming time for everyone, parents and children alike. All children find it hard to adjust to change, but for children with SEN, often adjusting to changes in their normal routine and environment can be extremely distressing. While they are of course used to being at home, the normal routine which they associate with this space is very different to that which is now expected.  Every family/child will have unique needs, but there are common factors for parents to consider as we help our children adjust to the “New Norm”.

Developing a routine/schedule:

Having an established routine is useful to help with defining schedules and gaining an understanding of this “New Norm”.  Children with SEN can find these changes extremely challenging – particularly children with ASD; and this makes developing a new routine more difficult.  Helping your child transition into this “New Norm” is an important part of your role.  Continuing with Reward Systems and Behaviour Charts, or even extending these, can help move your child and yourself as smoothly as possible into this new daily norm.  Remember your child usually goes out to a school environment, they will also associate particular parts of the day with home and other aspects of the day with school; therefore this needs to be supported if the transition is to be successful.

Strategies to support the “New Norm”

In order to incorporate all aspects of the day into a successful “New Norm” – try some of these strategies:

  • Have cues and continue with normal routines i.e. hygiene, getting up and getting dressed, gathering what is needed for the day (in their school bag if they have one).  This helps maintain the normality of daily living and provides signals for specific parts of the day – for example school time, break time, bed time etc.  It is of vital importance to include start and stop times for all activities as you move through the day.
  • It can be beneficial to build on old or existing routines, or incorporate features of the school day into the routine you normally have; you will find this can help ease the transition for your child.  Add activities over a period of days so they are not immediate – sudden changes are more difficult for a child to regulate.    Many teachers/schools may have provided a schedule, which they use, or you many have a visual schedule at home already, try combining these.  Ask your child’s teacher for photos or pictures, which are used in the setting/classroom – it will help to ease transitions if you maintain as many parallels as possible.  Try as far as possible to include similar names for items and activities to help your child make the connection between home and school during this unusual time; again helping them engage with this “New Norm”.
  • Don’t forget the importance of including a physical break.  Allow your child time to unwind, let off steam throughout the day.  Regular breaks help with concentration, but particularly when they know there is a break coming up!  Be guided by the child in respect of these types of activities, make sure you include things they enjoy doing (but minimise screen time and try to get outdoors if possible – within the current regulations).
  • It is important that you also take a break. Taking full responsibility for a child 24/7 will place a lot of strain on a parent.  If you have a partner at home – perhaps they can be involved in some of the activities – remember to schedule the change of person!  If not perhaps include some activities which your child can engage in alone so you can have a break, but do be aware of your child’s limitations at all times.
  • Be mindful of the ABC’s of Behaviour and include clear techniques that have instant, tangible rewards after the completion of a task or activity.  It can be beneficial to use appropriate language, like ‘First – Then” setting clear boundaries from the outset.  It is important to remember that a reward does not always need to be SCREEN TIME – you could include the scheduled breaks cleverly, so that these become part of the reward process.  Also consider giving older children points, which allow them the choice of one activity, which they enjoy most at the end of the day.

Your child’s environment is important:

Trying to adopt an environment that works is essential, but make sure it is one that works for both you and your child:

  • It helps to create different activity areas within the home, or room.  Depending on the age of your child – set aside a section of living area for school activities, eating, sleep, relaxation and play.  If you have room for storage this can help maintain expectancies already introduced in school.  Some children will have tactile sensory needs, so consider having some sensory toys in one area of the room; but as it is important to encourage movement, have your child get up and get a toy, and go and put it back or change it – this physical activity is good for circulation issues, but it also breaks the monotony of sitting for long periods of time.
  • If your child has communication difficulties it is useful to place some preferred toys or activities out of reach; storing these in clear boxes, clearly labeled can help promote social interaction and communication, developing personal dependence.  This encourages the child to deliberately communicate their wants, and minimises unwanted outbursts due to frustrations or misunderstandings.
  • Introduce new ideas slowly – during less busy periods of the day or week.  Remember it will take a while for your child to adjust – be patient and try to introduce these new strategies at times when there is less demand i.e. weekends or evenings, or perhaps when there is more support around the house.  It is not advisable to try a new strategy when you are alone and perhaps awaiting a phone call or trying to answer an email for example.  Be prepared for hiccups!
  • Make sure you are clear about new boundaries, for example if your child normally has access to screen time when at home – make them aware that now they are at home all day every day, this needs to be different.  Likewise with play and outdoor activities etc.  This applies also to access to a parent; your child will quickly learn that you are now always home, and readily available, so it is important to include times of no access – and have your partner step in if possible.  This is important for you as well as the child.  Maintaining manageable boundaries is key.

Remember keep working toward a goal:

During these difficult times it can be hard when your normal supports are no longer available.  Many Therapy sessions and early intervention supports are closed or on reduced time.  This can leave you feeling isolated and uncertain with regards your child’s progress.  The important thing is to remain focused; there are lots of options during this time at home to keep your child on track:

  • Take on board any recommendations you have been previously given.
  • Keep in contact with your child’s teacher – they will be aware of any IEP, which has been instigated for your child.  You might well have a copy of this also.
  • Many therapists are still available for online support, so check this out and make contact.  Others will help you develop and retain the focus of your plan to meet the specific needs and goals of you child.
  • Telephone conversations are beneficial if you are unclear about anything, or even for getting advice on how to make your environment work more efficiently during this time.
  • Stay in touch with other parents – networking is of vital importance during these trying times.
  • Most importantly keep your child focused and moving forward encourage progression; but remember – if it gets to challenging step away, take a break – TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.

You are not alone:

Many parents have been pushed into the role of full time teacher and carer, which is not an easy task particularly if you are normally out at work during the day. You don’t have to do this alone, make sure you retain some skype contact with close friends which your child would normally see, and also family and relations.  It is vital that as many social contacts are maintained as possible.  Talk to your child (make it age appropriate), explain why things have changed, but keep focusing on the positive and reassure them this will not be forever.  Remember the Parent is the first and most important educator a child will every have, nobody understands your child better than you. It is fine to feel a little overwhelmed with all that is going on, just take your time; you can make this “New Norm” work for you and your child.

What training is available in the area of Special Needs Education?

Portobello Institute has a long established history of offering training and education to those working with children with special educational needs. All of these courses are available to study by distance learning and blended learning. Workshops are taking place by webinar to meet the guidelines of current Covid 19 restrictions. If you prefer, you can start your learning journey today with the online content and defer attending the workshop until restrictions have lifted.

  • Special Needs Assisting – QQI Level 5 – start today
  • Special Needs Assisting – QQI Level 6 – start today
  • Therapeutic Play Skills – QQI Level 6 – start today
  • ECCE with Special Needs Education focus – QQI Level 6 – start today
  • Coping with Challenging Behaviour – start today
  • Understanding Autism – start today
  • Understanding Dyspraxia – start today
  • Understanding Dyslexia – start today
  • Intellectual Disability Studies – start today

For a full list of programmes, or to find out more about this Training Provider, click here.

Contacting The Portobello Institute

The Portobello Institute are working remotely and are available to support you with any queries you might have at this time. Please call Jenny on 01-8920031 or email her on jennifer.matteazzi@portobelloinstitute.ie.

About the author

Marguerita Magennis’s industry experience began some time ago when she opened her own preschool, before moving into working with Children with Additional Needs in the field of Educational Psychology.   It was the time she spent working in this industry which lead her to focus on changing her career.  Marguerita has since worked in all sectors of Education, starting with Preschool, moving into the Primary Sector, Special Needs sector and then to further Education, and Higher Education, now teaching Degree and Masters Students in Portobello Institute.

Marguerita’s career highlights include working with a young child with Autism, and the first time this child spoke and engaged with other children. Read more about Marguerita here

Additional Resources

Education Corner – this website offers insights into approaches for home-schooling the child with SEN from kindergarten through to Higher Education. It is based in the US. Click here to visit

Time4learning – this is a resource based website with a wide variety of resources and a newsletter that can be subscribed to – it is UK based. Click here to visit

Homeschool.com – another US resource based website offering insights and resources for homeschooling the child with SEN. Click here to visit.

Gemma Creagh

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