inFocus: What challenges are parents with special needs children facing during the virtual school year?

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Parents have had to face new challenges during virtual learning, but parents of special ed children feel as though they are well-equipped.

NORTHERN VIRGINIA & MARYLAND (WDVM) — It’s no surprise that parents have had feelings of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a parent is hard enough, but juggling new roles of being a parent, teacher and working from home? The adjustment to being all of these roles has been a challenge for many.

But for parents of special needs children, they have an additional role to play compared to most parents: being a special education therapist.

“Your role is a caretaker in emotional support, and then when you become the teacher…it’s like your role in their life becomes blurred.”

Sarah Denney, a Baltimore mother of two with a child with disabilities

Denney says both of her children will be returning to school using the hybrid model. While she is concerned that they could potentially bring COVID-19 home, she says that her son with disabilities has to return in order to not fall behind in school.

“I’m just not able to provide what he’s getting at school,” she said.

Another parent adapting for his son is Aldie resident, Doug Meeker. His son, Scott, was diagnosed with autism at age four, and his school will be virtual again this fall. That means, so will his services.

“Zoom is wonderful, but there’s only so much of the interaction, which is so important for kids with neuro-diverse challenges. So, there’s an interaction deficit,” said Meeker.

Both parents say the biggest challenges of home schooling a child with special needs is creating structure. Disrupting an autistic child’s daily schedule, such as making the switch to virtual learning, can cause distress.

“Being at home means I’m relaxing, I’m maybe doing a little work but I’m not doing work all day, and that’s been the fight, is it’s not summer vacation,” said Denney.

One trend that unites parents everywhere, whether your child has disabilities or not, is the struggle to balance both the parent and educator roles.

“Parents are going to have to cut themselves some slack,” said Lisa Hughes, a clinical therapist in Hagerstown, MD. “Take breaks when you need them, absolutely do what you can, but then step back and remember that you’re the parent and you don’t want to erase the bond between you and a child.”

While the pandemic has caused stress for all parents, Meeker says that parents with children who have disabilities are able to handle the challenge.

“For parents like us, we’re already anxious and stressed about what happens long-term,” he said. “I think we’re uniquely equipped to deal with this, cause we’ve been dealing with it for 14 years.”

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