Sending My Special Needs Child Back To School After Lockdown

Everything still feels normal when the school bus pulls up to our house. Like riding a bicycle, Lucas remembers the procedure to get his little body to school. The wheels go ‘round. The windows go up and down. Weather permitting, the wipers go swish. We all know the lyrics. We all know the routine.

When the doors go open and shut, however, I’m reminded that this is a world with coronavirus still sweeping through the streets. The bus driver and safety matron, once smiling to welcome us aboard, are literally masked. For a split second, I feel like I’m in the Purge. When the driver says to “move on back”, she means it.

Before Lucas takes his first step, a thermometer points to his forehead and the aide calls out “97”. It fluctuates each morning, but hovers around normal. My little guy has his hands bathed in sanitizer and takes his seat. Ten seconds later, he’s down the block and I’m a speck waving goodbye in the rearview.

I know some parents reading this are dying inside. With Covid-19 scaring us since March-20, the world has been a more sinister place. Stores closed and schools are taught through distance. Meetings are Zoomed. Concerts are virtual. Restaurants are outside. Life is changed.

bus1For my child with Autism, however, distance learning never seemed to cut it. Since he’s non-verbal, Lucas couldn’t have the need for cyber-classes explained to him. Instead, he did what he thought was the quickest way out of it.

He’d press the menu button on the iPad and exit the Google Meet.

It was a common theme with any of his classes. We’d load up the device, position it perfectly, battle to get the code to work, and then try to coax him into caring.

Lucas. Say hi. Say hi to your teacher. Lucas…no, sit. We’re doing this. No. No. You can play iPad after. No. IPad after. Lucas, say hi. Say hi. No, don’t press that. Lucas. No. Don’t…Lucas. Come back here.

Then, after scraping him off the floor or holding one arm while he’d swing around in circles, I’d help him return to the table, where he’d stare out the window with an annoyed gaze until the session ended.

The craziest part? His teachers and therapists told us how wonderful he was handling it in comparison to some others. Yeah. Let that sink in. It didn’t sound easy for anyone.

Distance learning wasn’t made for children like my boy and, even when he was on task, he wasn’t actually taking in new information. He was simply maintaining what he already knew and trying not to regress. We lived in fear that he would forget things or stop advancing. An end to in-person classes meant an end to actual education for my special needs child. It was our biggest fears coming true.

The teachers joined in our worries. We talked about possible ways to make things work going forward and how his classes, with only six students, can be done while maintaining safety regulations. Even if things couldn’t go back to normal, there had to be an alternative to this alternative because this alternative wasn’t cutting it.

Then, everything changed when New York announced a return to in-person summer classes for children with individualized education programs. When our district announced that they would be taking part in this for kids with IEPs, like Lucas, we were thrilled. But we also were just as apprehensive as everyone else would be regarding safety. Knowing our son can’t wear a mask, we were soon replacing one fear, that of regression, with another, that of illness. Everywhere we turned this year, there was fear.

That’s something that has to be made clear. For all those claiming parents want their kids back at school for selfish reasons like “wanting them out of the house”, know that’s not the case for many. For parents to special needs children like mine, in person classes goes beyond a day of relaxation or glorified babysitting. It is a vital necessity. Without a speech therapist there to demonstrate mouth movements or even a teacher in the room to captivate attention, our kids would be left with nothing.

To the credit of our teachers, therapists, and administrators, safety has been a huge priority. The classes are smaller, the staff is larger, the rules are being held to stringently. Parents aren’t allowed inside the building and, every day, we are required to monitor our child’s health. They may not have erased the threat of Covid-19 completely, but they’ve done whatever they can to alleviate the stress caused by possible exposure.

This is the world now and while we can debate the appropriate time for things to get back to normal, on thing is certain – eventually they will have to. We have to take those starting times as they’re needed and, for my son, this definitely seems needed. I trust those who have worked to help us make it happen and I cherish the smile on his face as he returns home each day. He may not have the capabilities to thank those professionals who are taking the risks and making a sacrifice for his education, but hopefully, he’ll be able to soon.

And that’s kind of the point.

How else is Coronavirus Lockdown affecting families? – Check out this survey from Huggable on The‌ ‌Unexpected‌ ‌Impact‌ ‌of‌ ‌COVID-19:‌ Bringing‌ ‌Moms‌ ‌and‌ ‌Children‌ ‌Closer‌ ‌Together‌