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.
Over the summer, some schools found ways to move IEPs online, but there are a slew of problems. "Delivering special education online is not easy," says Emily Smith, founder of Teleteachers, which provides online tutoring to students with disabilities. "We're seeing a big learning curve."
For example, in Northern Virginia, "8-year-old Theo Duran, who is autistic, struggles more to walk up the stairs or hold a crayon to write — all tasks he was making progress on before the coronavirus pandemic hit and shut down his school," Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss write for the Washington Post.
Students rely on in-person learning so they can pick up on social cues and further develop socially and behaviorally.
And the parents of students who receive multiple services — such as occupational therapy, speech therapy or counseling — have to keep up with a packed schedule of online sessions on top of virtual class time.
Special educators often have behavioral aides or other support staff in the classroom.
"In our new environment, there is no support staff," Smith says. "That falls on the parents who are likely working and likely have no idea how to help their child participate in a session."
The other side: Some students could potentially benefit from online school since they will be learning in the familiar environment of home.
Once teachers and parents figure it out, the integration of new technology could make special education more tailored for the individual student, Cunningham says.
Go deeper... Podcast: Special ed under pressure
Carolyn Jones at EdSource:
As schools in California begin re-opening virtually, state education officials have taken steps to improve distance learning for a group of students who were largely left behind in the spring: Those in special education.
But some parents wonder if distance learning will ever work well for students with disabilities.
The most significant new law, passed in June as part of the state budget, requires districts to craft distance learning plans for all students in special education, tailored to each student’s unique needs. The plans will apply to any emergency that forces a school to close for 10 days or more, including wildfires, earthquakes and pandemics.
The plans will be part of a student’s individualized education program, or IEP. Teachers, parents, therapists, counselors and other staff will create the plan during a student’s regularly scheduled IEP review, if not sooner.
“Finally, there’s something for parents to point at that guarantees a distance learning plan as part of an IEP,” said Robert Borrelle, an attorney for Disability Rights California, a nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities. “Before this, some districts were doing nothing.”