Last week I posted in a special needs Facebook group asking if anyone else was concerned about the effect school closures would have on their special needs kids. I was bombarded with positive messages about how the kids will do fine without academics for a few weeks. I wholly agree with this. In fact, I said as much in this post. But here’s the thing, for many special ed students, academics aren’t the issue at all.
Many Interventions and Therapies Take Place at School
Here in the US, it is school districts that deliver many essential therapies to kids past the age of three. Once kids age out of early intervention (Birth to Three) but still need services they are moved to the local school district and given an IEP.
After years (literally) of
fighting persuading the school to give our son more services, we finally got him switched to Lifeskills in December 2019. Correction, at the end of December 2019. Then it was winter break, then a few personal issues, and then school being closed, he’s only had a total of a couple of weeks of Lifeskills. His adaptive skills are extremely low. He is 17 and we don’t have a whole lot of time to work on these. Yes, he can legally stay in school until he is 21, but it has been such a struggle since he began high school, I’m not pinning my hopes on that. I fear that this temporary closure, while necessary, is going to have a long-term impact on him.
What difference will a few months make over the span of a lifetime? Well, because we have had such a struggle getting services, he is coming to the game quite late, so yes, a few missed months will make a difference for him.
No, Working on the Skills at Home is Not an Option
I won’t go into the details, but trust me when I say no, I can’t just work on these skills with him at home. As it turns out, there is a reason teachers go to school for years to learn to teach special ed. Already the state is being given plenty of leeway when it comes to IEP’s during this period of school cancellations.
From the Office of the Superintendent here in Washington, ” As stated above, these services will look different based on safety needs, student need, parent engagement, staffing configurations, regional need, and district systems. Additionally, there is not an expectation that IEP services would be delivered exactly as the IEP states, and providing supports such as a one to one paraeducator may not be needed at home or may not be feasible based on staffing configurations.”
We have fought tooth and nail to try to get his IEP in place and fought harder yet to get his teachers to follow it. Now, it may not matter at all.
Coronavirus Bill Allows DeVos to Waive Part of Special Ed
The entire purpose of IDEA* children with disabilities a free and appropriate education. Now there is a very real threat that schools won’t have to educate special ed students during this period. What does this mean for our kids? For my son, it means the loss of vital skills. Social skills, life skills, the ability to do things that are uncomfortable, the ability to learn new self-care skills.
*The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.
And for a less complicated kid, it still means unmeasurable loss. My daughter who also has a learning disability is now expected to learn online while watching videos a couple of times a week. Clearly, this is not going to do the job.
Compassion When There Are No Answers
So what is the solution? I have no idea. I know this was unexpected and unpredictable. I don’t have the answers. I am just writing this to help you understand that for many families this is not just a loss of academics. It is a loss of much-needed therapy for our kids.
Why should strangers care about my son and his special needs? This issue should matter to everyone because in a very short time my son will be a legal adult. He will be in the community. You may see him at the grocery store, or library. He doesn’t just “disappear” when he ages out of school. You will be interacting with him. Your kids will be interacting with him.
So I beg of you, if you hear someone “freaking out” about school closures, there may very well be more to the picture than meets the eye. Yes, you can still love your kids, enjoy spending time with them, homeschool them, and still mourn the loss of essential therapy.