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Friday, August 21, 2020

More Back to School

 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.

Cory Turner at NPR:
Some families and advocates have filed lawsuits arguing schools broke federal disability law by providing insufficient services in the spring. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act guarantee students with disabilities the right to a free appropriate public education and protect them from discrimination. In spite of the ongoing pandemic, those laws "have not changed," says Diane Smith Howard, with the National Disability Rights Network. "Those laws have not been repealed. There are no waivers to those laws. So they are in effect."
David Jeck, the superintendent of schools in Fauquier County, Va., believes the reason there haven't been more lawsuits is because, in the early months of the pandemic, parents of children with disabilities seemed to extend school leaders a certain amount of "grace."
He describes the jump to remote learning as "every school leader's greatest nightmare," and says parents understood "that we're only human. We're going to do the best we can, and that's what we did."
This fall is "a different animal," he says. "We've had more time to plan. We've had more time to prepare." And schools may no longer be able to count on the "grace" of parents.
Serena McNiff at Healthday:
"The burden of stress on the families of children with disabilities is significant, and even more so during the pandemic when the supports typically available are not accessible, and interaction with extended family and friends is not possible," said Dr. Olaf Kraus de Camargo, an associate professor of pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
In normal times, a child with autism, for example, may participate in peer-to-peer workshops to help them develop their social skills. But conducting this kind of workshop virtually may not be feasible or effective.
And without school, autistic children with social deficiencies are missing out on building essential social skills. "Some schools have social communication classrooms," Kraus de Camargo said. "They have a social-skills training for these kids that have been very successful in making them more comfortable in social interactions."
Without these kinds of services, children's development can regress. "They can lose the ground they gained during treatment," Kraus de Camargo explained.
Kraus de Camargo gave one example of an 8-year-old autistic boy who refuses to eat normally—a condition called pediatric feeding disorder. "Before the pandemic, he was making progress by participating in feeding workshops, which helped him to tolerate different foods and textures," Kraus de Camargo said. "Since March, he has stopped trying new foods and now is back to only McDonald's french fries and Fruitopia."
The boy's mother was afraid to take her son to the doctor for fear of him catching COVID-19. "This child is regressing in his skills and probably already has nutritional deficiencies," Kraus de Camargo added.
Taylor Hannon at School Transportation News:
Board-certified behavior analyst Patrick Mulick, who is also a frequent speaker at the TSD Conference and STN EXPO, addressed this need during an Aug. 12 webinar on re-engaging students with special needs as they make their way back to school.
Mulick said that while many people have reacted to the pandemic with various levels of fear, students with disabilities are often ill-equipped to deal with change. He noted that anxiety is also the main emotion experienced by children who have autism because of the unpredictable nature of simply walking out their front door.