Return to Learn: What to Expect
With school boards scrambling to make decisions about returning to learning at districts across the country, parents and education leaders alike fear that students have struggled with virtual learning and potentially fallen behind in their learning. There is normally, a “summer slide” to be expected each year. The “summer slide” is a regression of the learning and academic gains acquired over the school year. However, this “summer slide” may be far worse than usual and unfortunately, we can anticipate this issue to be even more pronounced for children with disabilities.
Who will most likely fall behind in a virtual learning environment?
Due to unique challenges associated with their diagnosis, children with disabilities are more likely to regress in behavioral and social skills, as well as academically in general. Starting in preschool, these children and their supportive families, count on a support team and a slew of special education teachers and service providers to support them thru what can be a rigorous daily routine a school. Of course, due to what feels like a new normal, with COVID-19, our parents are solely trying to fill the gap of an entire support team. Disabilities run the gamut from fairly significant intellectual disabilities, severe language challenges, moderate behavioral concerns to mild learning disabilities. Naturally, families are at a loss determining how and what to do and maintaining continuity in the level of care to promote their child’s continued learning and development at home when the ground has been taken out from under them. Consistency is a huge factor in helping to minimize frustration, reduce anxiety and thereby reducing subsequent challenging behaviors for many children. With another transition approaching and the uncertainty surrounding the return to school, our families may experience disengagement from school work and an uptick in behavioral outbursts. To combat that, some service providers and special education teachers have done a phenomenal job transitioning to offer guidance and virtual support. So what does that look like? Some tools such as visual activities and aids that can readily be implemented utilizing materials found in the home have come in handy, as well as routine check-ins with students via Zoom. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), special education teams are required to meet federal obligations to provide educational services that are specialized for students with disabilities. Fortunately, these phenomenal special education teams are thinking outside the box and using creativity to figure out ways to provide that specialized educational support in a virtual world. Our families and educators have never worked harder to support children with disabilities.
What needs to be done to recover lost ground?
To ensure the highest chance of success during the return to learning process, schools will need to implement the plan slowly. We want to be mindful careful to avoid another abrupt transition, although teachers and families want children to return to the learning environment. Undoubtedly, children will have become somewhat accustomed to their stay-at-home schedule, and any change with that, including returning to school, may trigger challenging behaviors again. Teachers will need to assess their current skills to understand where to begin the curriculum, once children are back in school.
What challenges will children face returning to school this fall?
Due to the extended period without consistent learning, children with significant disabilities may experience regression and have a difficult time regaining lost skills. However, with thoughtful curriculum implementation and thorough planning, they will continue to flourish and develop.
When will students overcome coronavirus setbacks?
This is a tricky question. Children without disabilities are fairly resilient and may recover quickly. That means they can regain skills that were lost over the pandemic in a more timely manner. Contrarily, it may take children with disabilities, considerably longer to regain those skills because in some cases they were not solid to begin with. It takes exponentially longer for children with disabilities to learn a skill, like subtraction, than neurotypical children. Children with disabilities require significantly more positive reinforcement, opportunities to learn new skills and more repetition. Additionally, a lot of accommodations to learn these new skills, such as tasks that are broken down, visual support and extra time to process what has been asked of them. Lastly, children with disabilities require instructions and services that are individualized based on their specific needs.
There are a lot of uncertainties associated with the upcoming school year for special education students. What is certain, is that we have the tools needed to make this a successful year.
What can parents do to prepare?
- Get organized: Try to keep a family calendar with special education meetings and important dates to ensure that you do not miss deadlines.
- Start a communication log: Keep track of phone calls, emails, meetings to help keep all information in line and all your ducks in a row.
- Review your child’s current Individualized Education Program (IEP): Ensure that you have a clear understanding of the details, know the expiration date and when the IEP is up for re-evaluation. Lastly, make sure the IEP still meets your child’s needs. For more information, please join us for our next facebook live regarding all things IEP.
- Relieve the jitters: Discuss that the school year will look differently this year and outline what changes will occur. If necessary, walk thru the virtual learning “campus” or go to the brick and mortar school if they will be returning to the campus. Consider waking up one morning and go thru what the child’s morning routine will be once school starts.
- Keep informed: Stay up-to-date on your child’s specific IEP, state legislation, news and events in regards to special education
We hope you find these tips helpful and they provide some guidance for the upcoming school year. If you would like more in-depth information regarding IEPs, please follow us on facebook to snag the link for our next live, Wednesday, July 29th at 12pm where Tracy Lee of the Virginia Department of Education Department of Special Education and Student Services will share her knowledge on the subject.
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