Pandemic hit kids with special needs as online classes fail to cater to them
Manav, a teenager on the autism spectrum, looked forward to going to school where he had friends who understood him and teachers who didn’t judge him. The pandemic changed everything for him last year when schools were shut. Being cooped inside his home for 18 months now, without getting to meet his friends, seeing them only online has taken a toll on him.
Manav isn’t an isolated case. Psychologists and education experts say online education has taken a toll on children with special needs.
Parents of many children with learning disabilities have expressed concern over the online mode of education. Sneha, a mother of a 16-year-old boy with autism, said that she has observed a lack of sleep and mood swings in her son due to increased screen time.
“One of the main concerns for children with special needs is that they have not been included in this struggle; they have been and still are on the periphery,” said Simmi Vasu, Principal of Orane Kids, a Noida-based school for children with autism and intellectual disabilities.
For children with special needs, their challenges do not end with online classes. They also have to deal with various neurological and sensory issues that come with their specific disability, making the challenges multi-fold.
According to a research by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANS) in 2020, 29% of children with special needs were not able to access online schooling, one of the possible reasons being their belonging to a lower socioeconomic strata. This figure is from the small portion of children with special needs who attend school and have access to education. This implies that such children will experience an immediate change in routine and loss of a social set-up, with limited resources to then deal with the changes.
Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) find it difficult to sustain their attention through online classes, and it can become difficult for teachers to engage them. Similarly, children with autism can find it difficult to get through the day with a change in routine. The problem arises when these issues are looked at from a normative lens, and not from how these are experienced by children with special needs.
Dipti Srivastava, a special educator at Orane Kids, said, “We have not been able to fulfil their needs.” She said since the students now don’t have access to all tools and resources educators use at school, they have to learn through kinaesthetic ways.
Further, the support that children with special needs require in terms of occupational therapy and special education may not be available and accessible online, leading to a disruption in their therapy and growth.
Conflicts at home have also impacted children with special needs. Varsha KV, a practising psychologist, said parental conflicts can increase emotional concerns among children with special needs, as “the space at home may not feel safe”.