by Peregrine Starr
The COVID19 pandemic has swept the world into a whirlwind of sudden chaos and uncertainty. As the adults around the globe are finding themselves having to transition into working from home (if not losing their jobs, altogether) and abstaining from any social contact, parents of school-aged children are facing a whole new situation of having to educate them, without training and without time to figure out a strategy.
Specialized education has largely fallen by the wayside during teachers’ plans for curriculum during this pandemic. Children with special needs are finding it harder to follow through with the amount of work that is being presented in an online format for their mainstreamed peers, when they have previously received their instruction one-on-one, often with an aide by their side. New formats, like Zoom and Google chats, can often cause more frustration and disruption than benefit for many children with focus-related diagnoses, like ADHD and autism.
Children who rely on the structure of consistent scheduling and routine can become severely dysregulated, if that is disrupted in even the smallest way. Vocalizations, repeated phrases or sounds, screaming, hitting themselves or others, and many other behaviors are all signs of severe dysregulation, and even those with a diagnosis of “mild” autism can exhibit these when faced with a stressful situation. ABC News reported that parents of special needs children are concerned about the lasting impact on a child’s emotional development.
Tegan Barber, a mother of 3 with one child in the special education program in Freeport, says, “Over all, the teachers have been wonderful with the amount of work, options, communication and time they have devoted… However, I feel as though the needs are unable to be exceeded from home because I am not a trained and certified teacher, especially for special needs.”
Shelby Swallow has two toddlers, in addition to her two school-age children. “I’m still not prepared, and it’s been a month. Every day is a new challenge, but somehow the same challenge. Call scheduling, lesson planning, printing and scanning assignments for two children with IEPs…add in support teams and their workload,” she said, adding that the situation has eliminated her own self-care and routine for household chores. Time she would have spent winding down from a busy day is now spent playing catch up on her own responsibilities, while the children sleep.
Students in the special education program find comfort in seeing familiar faces, at the same time and same place, every single school day. When confronted with the idea that what is happening at home is “school”, confusion, frustration, panic, and/or anger ensue. Parents do not know the things that the Teacher knows about Johnny when he does his math work in class. Even the most diligently-involved parents cannot replace these experiences, and things that would soothe a neuro-typical child, like video games, chatting with friends, or even playing outside, are not often options for those with developmental or behavioral disorders.
The pandemic has caused a great deal of disruption in everyone’s lives, and presented situations that can be very scary and overwhelming. All we can do is stay home, stay healthy, and encourage everyone else to do the same, so we and our children can return to those things that help provide us all with a sense of stability and safety. Be well.