Friday, April 3, 2020

When Online Distance Learning Is Challenging for Special Needs Students

Feeling a bit overwhelmed to be honest.  Distance Learning started this week.  Even though Zach has been working from home for almost 3 weeks, the addition of a copious amount of online work has made his learning schedule next to impossible.  I have been working (helping the aging demographic and medically vulnerable in their homes), and am sometimes gone 3 or 4 days a week.  Lily has now completed her first week of Distance Learning, states that she likes it quite a bit and remains engaged.  She holds down the fort while I am at work and tries to help Zach on the few things that he can do without one on one assistance.  She makes him lunch and tries to check in on him as often as she can.

Zach has an amazing mind. With Autism, some days, specific lessons can seem very challenging. The next day, he completely understands it and is ready to move on.  The problem that I am running into is the vast amount of work. I get it. Zach has an IEP and his teachers are doing an amazing job trying to keep him on track to accomplish his goals. I am forever grateful. Where I am struggling is with the busy work.

Two documents we weren't even able to access and I made numerous requests throughout the week and didn't receive any guidance. My kid is an active kid. He walks daily and even watches the exercise videos that have been posted from his DAPE teacher (adaptive phy-ed). He does this as I said, every day.  And he isn't able to go to work right now through his work experience program through school, so they have asked that we takes notes of all the household chores that he is completing. He helps me regardless of whether or not he has a Distance Learning program that requires him to help. Without being able to access the documents, I as his mom, had to create two google docs and send them as an email attachment to those two teachers because there wasn't any other way to submit them. Zach can not do either of these things on his own, so I as his mom had to do them for him.

Zach is doing alright on his math and doing quite well in his reading and journal assignments.  He likes morning meeting and checking in for speech.  He enjoys watching videos that teachers post reading books or asking questions to which he needs to respond.  The problem is, because he has special needs, he isn't able to do any of the other work on his own.  He can do his daily attendance check in and morning meeting. That is it.  Everything else requires one on one instruction.

So yes, love the idea that my kids along with everyone else's kids will be able to continue learning through the rest of the school year. I love that my daughter enjoys zoom class lessons and she feels confident that she can do this. (She is 13, in 7th grade and has needed nominal assistance online.) But online learning doesn't work for my son, and from what I am hearing, many other special needs kids.  They need the eye contact of their teacher, the visual affirmation when they are doing well, the gentle redirection a teacher provides when they get distracted.  They need supervision and sometimes constant help. I am not able to provide it. And many parents are struggling just like I am.

As I write this, it sounds like one big complaining blog post. Our reality is that Distance Learning works for one kid and not the other.  But rather than continue to feel overwhelmed, I need to change my attitude and my approach.  I will not be encouraging Zach to participate in the busy work.  I am not going to stay up until 11 pm trying to make sense of what he needs to accomplish the next day.  And I am not going to tackle every class every day with Zach.

What will I do? I as a parent will remain engaged. I will let teachers know that they are doing an amazing job. I will continue working to help support my family as I also take care of those who are not able to do so for themselves at this time. I will enable Zach to take lots of breaks and enjoy a solid hour on the iPad every afternoon. I will pull him close and hug him when he struggling and compliment him on a job well done.  We will work on math and reading and I will show him new videos online from his teachers.  I will make sure he stays physically active.  But most of all, I am going to keep on loving him. I am going to laugh and play with him. I will let him lead me down a different path on our next walk.  And I will let laughter reign supreme.  If I can accomplish half of these things, it will be an amazing day each and every day. I just need to remind myself of all the things we can accomplish together rather than wallow in what isn't working or what is too challenging.

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