This past spring, families across the United States underwent a major disruption in their daily lives. With the spread of COVID-19, everything from our daily commutes, work schedules, gym schedules, entertainment options, and worship services were all cancelled or changed significantly. One way the coronavirus also brought major change to families in the United States was through the school schedules of students from kindergarten through college. One section within America’s education system that felt the effect of COVID-19 in a unique way was the special education system. In an effort to slow the spread of the virus, schools closed down early, taking classes online and into the homes of students. However, for special education students, who may need assistance in anything from learning to physical needs to food assistance, getting them the help and education they need has been a challenge.
Although schools are offering support via online learning opportunities, it can be a major obstacle for younger kids to navigate on their own- and even more daunting for parents of children with special needs. This is because students with disabilities, whether physical or mental, often need familiar routines to establish security, safety, and productive education. They also need crucial services, such as speech and occupational therapy to help them with their learning difficulties.
Students with special needs are not the only ones who are struggling to adjust to these new times; the parents of these students are having to adjust as well. Balancing work and other daily needs can be more of a challenge in figuring out logistics and support services.
Now, with summer school in full swing or ready to start in some areas, and the new school year fast approaching, it’s important for parents, students, and special education teachers alike to look to the resources available to plan a better summer and fall school system.
The most important thing parents, teachers and caregivers can do to help a child with special needs cope during these unprecedented times is to create a routine or schedule. It is important to establish a routine as it helps kids know what to expect and reduce stress.
Families that are struggling with special education instruction can start by asking their children’s school to help create a schedule based on the children’s usual day at school. It’s also important to note that it’s crucial to help kids learn about flexibility, especially during uncertain times like these. Parents can start by making one small change to daily schedule, like alternating between reading books and coloring or singing songs.
For teachers and school systems, federal resources, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education has stepped in to help figure out everything from teaching resources to helping families with in-house assistance. For schools in certain districts throughout the United States, special education programming can continue this summer onsite. In New York, the state’s governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed an executive order allowing for special education programs to continue on school property while also opening the door for more hands-on services to help.
For special education classes, continuing to offer virtual courses can also help students and parents alike with staying on schedule and getting their schoolwork done on time. This can also help with exercises in speech and special learning techniques. Some lessons can be live and some can be asynchronous, which will allow more flexibility for parents who will have to assist in these lessons.
While long-term plans haven’t been set in stone yet, and school boards continue to evaluate how they will move forward heading into the fall schedule, doing your best to keep an effective schedule while accessing available resources is a step in the right direction to help students with special needs continue learning and feel supported.
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