Flying a UFO: Learning Disabilities in the Time of COVID-19
As schools begin to release information on their plans for learning this fall, many parents – myself included – feel like we’ve been on an episode of "The Twilight Zone," leaving many emotions, questions, and fears unsatisfied. But this other-worldly ride has only been amplified exponentially for parents of children with disabilities as they face the new school year.
All of our children will face new challenges this year, be it focusing during online learning, managing the ever-changing schedule of hybrid learning, or trying to just be a kid during a time of face-masks and social-distancing. Students with disabilities (physical, learning, emotional, and intellectual) will face an even greater challenge as they attempt to learn and grow in classrooms of all shapes and sizes this year. For their parents, control over educational decision-making for their children seems further and further out of reach. If this sounds like a black hole you are experiencing, some simple first steps can mean the difference between being strapped into a spaceship against your will and being the pilot manning the controls. Either way, the ride is happening - but you can get some control back for you and your child!
Do your research! Know your child’s IEP (or 504 plan) including goal areas, services, accommodations, and the annual review/re-evaluation date. If you don’t have a copy of the IEP, email your child’s school right away to get it! Familiarize yourself with state guidelines for IDEA on the CDE website and read up on the updated guidelines for students with IEPs during COVID-19. (In a nutshell, schools and districts are still required by law to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to all students, including students with disabilities. However, “[s]ervices typically provided in person may now need to be provided through alternative methods, requiring creative and innovative approaches,” according to the website. In other words, schools and districts are tasked with building UFOs this year!) Also familiarize yourself with the models that your school or district is implementing to provide services and accommodations to children with IEPs during this time. All districts should have an overview of service delivery models available on their website, although the specifics will likely be different at each school, depending on the needs of the students.
Reach out! Get in touch with your child’s teacher(s) and administrators right away to learn who will be providing services and/or accommodations for your child this year. Contact those service providers to ask how they plan to deliver services and accommodate for your child in whatever learning model your school is using this fall. For example, if your child receives an accommodation for "frequent checks for understanding" in the classroom, ask how this will be accomplished via virtual learning. If your child typically participates in a social/affective skills group, ask the service provider how this will be handled this fall. Ask questions and be persistent, but also recognize that teachers and administrators are truly building this "Twilight Zone" UFO mid-flight! Get answers AND give grace this fall. They may not have every detail figured out, but your question may help them to make decisions about programming and instruction, not only for your child, but for many others too.
Don’t go it alone! Our children need their “village” now more than ever, even if it’s a socially-distanced village! Lean on friends, family, neighbors, and community resources to share this burden with you. Even the small step of joining a parents’ group on Facebook can relieve some of the pressure by sharing ideas, successes, and struggles together. Look on community websites for virtual or in-person support for kids and parents alike including your local library, county human services, religious organizations, and agencies that serve kids and families. Some parents have found community, playdates, and shared resources on sites like NextDoor. Even some local kid-serving businesses like gyms and ballet studios are offering support for virtual learning with opportunities for kids to socialize safely together!
The bottom line: your child's unique learning needs can and should be met this year, regardless of how learning looks. Give yourself, your child, and your child’s school grace this year! We’re all embarking on a journey into the unknown, but by working together, our kids can and will thrive! Still not sure your child’s needs are being met, or just want someone to walk on this journey with you? Contact me to today to schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation!