• Dr. Patricia Cook

Creating a Daily Work Schedule for special needs students

One of the most frequent comments I hear from special needs parents is how they struggle to keep students on a schedule and focused while working online. While every family has to work through a transition period when moving from a brick and mortar school to online, this is especially true for students with disabilities. While there is lots of research available on creating a classroom environment that fosters learning, there are only a few resources out there that talk about what that should look like at home. These tips and tricks are based on the 5,000+ IEP meetings I have held over the last five years with parents, and teachers, where we have talked about things that work and things that parent/teachers have celebrated success with.


Setting up a daily schedule of when you will work on what, and stick to it.

One of the most common mistakes I hear about in scheduling from teachers and families is when teams set up an unrealistic schedule and then get frustrated when it does not work out. If the student has a standing counseling appointment on Tuesday mornings, or has basketball practice every Thursday afternoon, it sets them up for failure if those items are not placed on the school schedule and subjects rearranged accordingly.


Be strategic with planning challenging/easier activities, along with family activities:

If you schedule the student with their toughest subject on the morning before basketball, you are planning for a fun, physical activity that allows for them to get up any pent up frustrations. Also, the afternoon after a counseling session, the student may want a subject that comes easiest to them and allows them to work independently and have academic success, with limited challenges and academic risks required. Also, be aware that certain students with special needs may need to have scheduled down time, with limited stimuli, to allow them to process or decompress.


Time of day is also important when scheduling school work. Yes, you have flexibility to work on a new schedule. However, I caution parents who allow children to sleep the mornings away and expect all work to occur in the afternoon and evening, that children are often "spent" by the end of the day, and often do not have the emotional/mental capacity for the stress of schools once they have already had a full day. Each family has their own rhythm of what "early morning" looks like, but I would encourage you to set yourself up in time blocks (early morning, mid morning, early afternoon, evening), and to also schedule breaks, meals, and ANY other standing appointments that are important to your student (appointments, sports, church, etc) on the school calendar, so you can commit to a schedule you intend to follow. There is nothing wrong with students working later in the day or evening hours; as long as you make sure they have access to support at that time, in case they hit a roadblock in their learning.


Schedule face to face teacher time: Teachers can support families in this process, not by dictating the schedule, but my helping to start the conversation and providing tools. Teachers may schedule face to face meetings with students individually or in groups for different subjects, and you want to ensure that families are including this time on the weekly schedule, so that this opportunity is not missed. You also want to make sure when grading, that you are keeping track of each students schedule and not penalizing them for work that may not show up on the schedule until later in the week.


Special needs students generally do best when they have structure and a supportive surround while working on schooling at home. Some families may choose to have a complex printed schedule that includes multiple children, while others may be using a basic calendar. It does not matter what it looks like' they key is that everyone is on the same page on expectations of when the student will do what, and that the teacher and the family partner to monitor the schedule and keep the learning times and plans consistent from week to week.


A free, super simplified printable template is available at: https://www.calendarpedia.com/weekly-schedule-word-templates.html


An example of a complex, multi-child household, from one parent schooling at home is available here:

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