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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Autism, Education, and the Pandemic

 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, social services, and therapies is proving to be very difficult.

Mary Beth Gilliland at South Jersey Times:
I work as a family advocate for a nonprofit agency in South Jersey. Of the dozens of families on my caseload, those with children on the autism spectrum have been impacted by the virus most acutely. By a landslide.

You see, the children with autism who I’m most concerned about, simply cannot access their education virtually. Let me say it louder for the people in the back: THESE CHILDREN CAN NOT LEARN THROUGH A COMPUTER SCREEN. Period.

Further, the assault of virtual learning has caused such extreme agitation that it’s leading to aggression. There are children banging their heads against keyboards. Others are attacking their parents-turned-teachers, leaving bruises and bald spots behind. These families are in crisis. The inability of schools to keep their doors open is to blame.

Sadly, regression in academic and functional skills has been just as catastrophic. For autism families, even tiny educational victories are hard-earned. Watching skills that took years to acquire vanish in a puff of pandemic smoke is the tragic reality.

The critical distinction here is that other children can learn virtually. Children with much higher levels of need, including many of those on the autism spectrum, cannot. These children are not receiving an appropriate education as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law of the land.