In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges get far more intense during disasters. And coronavirus is proving to be the biggest disaster of all. Providing education is proving to be very difficult.
[New York City] is home to roughly 200,000 public school students with disabilities. Now, the already-strained special education system must transform how they are educated, which includes crucial services — like speech, occupational and physical therapy — that are extremely difficult and in some cases impossible to translate online.
The city has already encountered some stark realities about remote special education in the first weeks of distance learning.
Interviews with about two dozen educators and parents showed wide agreement that, even if remote learning were executed perfectly, students with special needs would fall behind academically and socially.
The city and state Education Departments have given New York City schools permission to cut down on some special services and to delay special education services for children who need them for the first time.
And though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has encouraged districts to keep up their online instruction, she is weighing whether to ask Congress for the authority to waive parts of federal education law requiring school districts to provide special education services, which could lead to huge disruptions in online instruction.
Mary Girimonte, who has a class of eight students on the autism spectrum at her school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said her biggest struggle during the normal school year was getting her class to focus and make eye contact. In school, she often uses a rock wall or a balance beam to help her students calm down, but is now stuck trying to soothe them through video chats.
“There’s days where I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ I just want to crumple up and cry,” said Manisha Shah-Balangon, who lives in Rego Park, Queens, and has a child on the autism spectrum.
“So I just say, ‘Suck it up and keep moving,’” she said. “You just have to.”