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.
What We Know
- Many students with disabilities did not receive the same quantity or quality of specialized therapies they received before the pandemic, due to shortened school days and the challenges of remote instruction.
- Students with disabilities experienced higher rates of absenteeism, incomplete assignments, and course failures compared to their typical peers, and the effect is more significant in mathematics than reading.
- Districts struggled most notably when trying to meet the needs of students who require more supports, including students with complex communication and learning disabilities.
- The negative impacts may be especially large for the youngest and oldest students— preschoolers aged three and up, in the earliest grades, and young adults nearing the age of twenty-one, when they transition out of special education and need new, community-based supports.
- Not all remote learning experiences were negative. Some students with disabilities, particularly those with emotional and attention issues, thrived in online environments that, when constructed with intentionality, fostered focused, individualized learning experiences.
- Greater technological connection helped many families become more involved with their children’s schooling. The shift to remote learning prompted districts to arrange virtual and more easily accessible IEP meetings with teachers, staff, and families. It also catalyzed efforts to prepare parents to support student learning at home.
- Initial challenges fueled the rapid development of positive, meaningful changes in service planning in some states. For example, a new California law requires all IEPs to specify how services will be provided under emergency conditions, such as when a student cannot physically attend school for more than ten consecutive days.
What We Don’t Know
- The true scope of the impacts of service interruptions in terms of students’ progress, including regression in basic skills among students with intensive needs, remains unclear.
- How the pandemic has affected the social and emotional development of students with disabilities is also unknown.
- We know little about how the pandemic has impacted academic, behavioral, socialemotional and post-graduation outcomes for students with disabilities. When theiroutcomes are explored, students with disabilities are often treated as a monolith, whichlikely masks critical variation in outcomes depending on students’ intensity of special education services, race, socioeconomic status, and English learner status.
- Almost all students declined academically, but students with disabilities were especially impacted.
- Even as many students returned to in-person learning, educators noted intensified mental health concerns for all students. Families of students with medical conditions or more significant support needs grappled with tradeoffs between in-person learning and their children’s health.
- More students who need special education services may not be getting identified, particularly young children from birth to age two.
- An untold number of families are still waiting for compensatory services to make up for what students lost earlier in the pandemic. Many are not even aware they qualify.
- The pandemic disrupted students’ transition services and progress toward traditional graduation requirements, but the implications of these disruptions for students’ postschool experiences are not yet known.
- Reliance on underqualified teachers – particularly for special education positions – may be increasing from pre-pandemic levels.
- Early analyses of how states and districts spent their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding raises concerns for how well-positioned schools will be to make long-term and systemic improvements to benefit students with disabilities