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The Building Blocks for Special Needs Kids

We owe them what they need.

As school districts across the nation have adopted remote learning, children with special needs will be the ones to experience the greatest challenges, often without the crucial resources normally available, and mandated by law, in a typical classroom setting.

Image by Romantic on Shutterstock
Source: Image by Romantic on Shutterstock

Because of quarantine and the reduced structure at home compared to a school classroom setting, parents this spring had the surprising experience of seeing up close and in-person the notable signs of inattention or learning struggles in their children. As a result, many parents have become aware that their children may have learning disabilities and other challenges, which school districts are not always incentivized to diagnose.

With students returning to a vastly different learning environment this fall, new special needs evaluation and accommodation requests are, without question, going to be on the rise.

Consider students with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), which has been diagnosed in more than 6 million children in the United States. These children often have trouble concentrating on a particular task and managing their time, and many experience restlessness throughout the day.

In a regular classroom, teachers and professionals can closely monitor students with ADHD, making sure the children are following along with other students and participating in activities. In addition, designated special needs instructors can adjust lesson plans to meet their unique needs. Some children, with severe ADHD, are even provided with a one-on-one paraprofessional to help them pay attention and focus.

In a Zoom virtual class, with a teacher and two dozen or more students watching remotely, these students are all too likely to fall through the cracks, left behind their peers, and missing out on key educational building blocks.

Remote classes also prevent the kinds of student-teacher relationships that allow students with other special needs to thrive, including those with social challenges such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or what was formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome. The person-to-person connection simply does not translate to a video conference, particularly when, at the start of the new school year, the teacher and students have in most instances never interacted before.

In a remote class at home, without an aide to offer support, these students and their parents are confronted with an enormous challenge. Educating such students requires professionals with very specialized training, which most parents, even those with special needs children, do not have.

Many parents work during the school day and cannot afford to hire a trained aide at home. Those who do work from home, during the pandemic, are forced to take time from their work obligations to oversee their special needs children but are often ill-equipped to know how to deal with these needs.

In the past, schools often ignored children with special needs or separated them from other students, sometimes literally in separate classrooms or buildings.

That approach, which stigmatized children with special needs and severely inhibited their academic and emotional development, has been discredited among educators and psychologists alike.

We now know that all students, regardless of their unique abilities and needs, belong together in the classroom to the fullest extent possible, with comprehensive resources in place to contribute to their success.

First and foremost, students identified as potentially having special needs require an evaluation by a professional to determine if a clinical condition is present and if so, how it may be treated and remediated, if possible.

Our schools have a moral responsibility, not to mention a legal duty, to provide a full and appropriate education for all students in their districts. That starts with providing resources for remote testing and diagnosis of special needs, then developing parallel special education plans to meet the needs of designated students who are attending school remotely.

Schools must work closely with experts in special education to guarantee every student a learning environment that meets their needs and abilities.

These plans should equip students with special needs and their families with the tools, including the necessary technology and lesson plan modifications, for success.

We owe this generation of students nothing less.