The Pandemic’s Impact on Children with Special Needs
This article is written from the perspective of a parent with a special needs child navigating through these challenging times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the routines of everyone, in school and out, but special needs students are more affected by these disruptions than most. Under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts in the U.S. are federally mandated to provide students with disabilities an education tailored to their individual needs. Each qualifying child receives an IEP, or Individualized Education Program, which lays out the services the student is required to receive. But implementing and assessing these programs has been extremely difficult for everyone since the pandemic.
A structured routine is the cornerstone of a special education program. With remote or hybrid education, this structure has been, if not removed, at least hijacked. Even via remote learning, teachers are valiantly trying to maintain the structure of a normal school day, but the truth is most of the burden for that routine now falls on the caregiver at home.
As a caregiver myself, I admit going through a lot of trial and error before landing on some strategies that help keep my autistic step-son engaged throughout the long day. It’s stressful for me, and I know I’m not nearly as qualified as the wonderful staff at his school, so I can’t help but think it must be affecting his learning outcomes.
Our family is lucky in that our boy has been able to maintain remote therapies and even a few at-home sessions with his ABA therapist. Without that, I am sure we would start to see some regression. Unfortunately, many families have not been able to access the therapies their children need and are entitled to by law. When you are overwhelmed with working from home, managing remote school, AND cooking dinner every night, it is not easy to find the time or energy to advocate for the services your child might need. It is understandable to feel overwhelmed, but I recommend you make the effort to communicate with your child’s team at school. Ask them what therapies your child is entitled to in their IEP, and how the school can help you access them.
If a child has an IEP, then by law it is rewritten each year, and the child must be reevaluated every three years to make sure that plan continues to meet his or her needs. But the COVID-19 quarantine has made school testing very difficult, if not impossible.
Special education assessments are starting to take place remotely, but many schools have a large backlog from the spring so it could take a while to get through every student who needs to be evaluated. Furthermore, the standardized assessments weren’t designed for remote delivery, so the responses are mainly coming from parent observations at home rather than teachers’ observations at school. IEP teams now must rely on data gathered by parents to inform decisions they make about the child’s education plan.
Final note to parents
While it is frustrating to think about the negative impacts this pandemic might be having on students with special needs, I can see how hard the staff, therapists, and teachers at my step-son’s school are working to make sure that he does get the best possible education. And I am so grateful for their commitment and dedication in an incredibly difficult time for everyone.
Alpha School an private special education school in New Jersey
Our Mission at The Alpha School is to help all of our special needs students with the learning, social, language, and behavioral support they deserve. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student to becoming the best they can while providing a safe and nurturing educational environment.
We would be more than happy to discuss your child’s specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.370.1150, or request a tour of Alpha School of Jackson, NJ located just minutes off of Route 9 and Route 195 in Ocean County.
— John Gonzalez, Principal-Alpha School, Jackson, NJ