Back In The Classroom After The Pandemic, Children With Special Needs Are Struggling

(The Center Square) – Illinois schools continue to cope with the effects of the school shutdowns during the pandemic.

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Recent studies have shown that remote learning and school closures impacted all children. Many lost ground and regressed in their basic skills. Their lives were disrupted when their parents lost jobs. Many children were forced to move out of their homes and their familiar neighborhoods. Loved ones and caregivers died and children are still grieving.

Beverly Johns, board president for Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois and a teacher with 40 years of experience working with children with behavioral problems, told The Center Square that the worst thing that can happen now is to pressure children to catch up.

“The pandemic was traumatic for many, many people,” Johns said.

Children and families who seemed to be handling learning disabilities pretty well before the school lockdowns wound up losing basic skills and falling behind because of all the disruptions, she said.

“We have to reteach a lot of skills,” Johns said. “Children may not have learned what they were supposed to learn in the second grade or the third grade and up.”

The challenges for learning children with disabilities and their families and teachers have increased, she said. A significant number of teachers have left the profession. Schools are short-staffed. There are not enough special education teachers. There are not enough occupational therapists, physical therapists and social workers.

“We are seeing a high amount of anxiety among both children and adults,” Johns said. “We’ve seen a rising rate of depression and a rising rate of suicide attempts.”

Some emergency rooms have reported suicide attempts by children in the 5-9 age group, she said.

The Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois has free workshops and a network of services for parents who are trying to meet their children’s needs. The best advocate for the child is the parent, Johns said. Teachers can ask for services, but the teacher does not have the impact that the parent has.

Parents need to ask the administration for services that their children are entitled to, she said. The Learning Disabilities Association helps parents figure out what to ask for.

“We help parents understand their rights. When they ask for an evaluation, we help them understand what to ask for,” Johns said. “Then it is the parent’s job to go to the school and say ‘my child is not getting the appropriate speech and language services, and I want them. And I want you to figure out how to get them for my child.”

Many parents are reluctant to rock the boat and confront school administrators, Johns said. She urges parents to step out of their comfort zone and stand up for their children.

“I always say to parents [that] when you are advocating for your own child, you are also advocating for a lot of other children whose parents can’t advocate for them,’” she said.

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