Back To School With Disabilities: Parents Face Difficult Decisions

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Jennifer Marsh

Herald Staff

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Back to school discussions are stressful for every parent during the COVID-19 crisis but for those with a special needs child it can be overwhelming according to Susan Campbell Turner, Licensed Psychological Practitioner and founder of Children and Family Counseling Associates in Harrodsburg.

“Each family that I am working with has to sort through a number of variables in making the decision about how and when to send their children back to face to face instruction and how to manage the virtual learning opportunities should they choose that option,” said Turner. “These decisions are dependent on the physical, mental health and academic needs of each child and are all going to be different.”

Both Burgin Independent Schools and Mercer County Schools are trying to set families with special needs children at ease.

Mercer County Schools’ Director of Special Education, Stephanie Rogers says she is encouraging families to make their choice between in person and remote learning knowing that every child will continue to receive special education and related services for both options.

“It will be individualized for each student based on their IEP (Individual Education Plan) and what the families are comfortable with in regards to service delivery,” said Rogers. “ Once we know the school choice, we will begin contacting families to discuss how services will look.  That’s the good thing about our September start date, it gives us more time to plan and set up individual programming for our students with disabilities.”

Any parent with questions on special education is encouraged to call Rogers at 733-7000.

Burgin is also trying to reassure families.

“Currently, Burgin is planning on returning to the classroom on Aug. 26, with two options:  in-person instruction or remote learning.  We understand that parents of students with disabilities can be anxious about how their child’s education will look.  Our special education plan is to meet the individual needs of all of our students based on their individual plans,” said Angie Bragg, director of special education at Burgin. “Our special education teachers and related service personnel will be available at school each day to work with each student in compliance with their IEP.  If school goes completely virtual, our special education team will continue to offer specific services in person at school, if parents want that option, or we will provide a tailored remote learning plan with their special education case manager and related service personnel.”

Bragg said any parent with questions or concerns about their Burgin student can contact her by calling 748-5282.

Children and Family Counseling Associates say their families are divided in their choices.

“For the children I currently serve, some parents are 100% on board with face to face instruction because they know that their children need the socialization and community of instructors to really thrive academically,” said Turner. “Some parents have significant concerns about specific physical health issues which means that going back to face to face instruction is not an option right now.”

Turner said parents have different reasons for the choices they make and support rather than judgment from others is important.

“Some parents have significant concerns about specific mental health issues such as difficulty with attention and focus which means that their children are going to struggle with on-line learning.  Several have specific sensory issues that make wearing a mask difficult if not impossible and they worry that this will be an additional barrier to learning,” said Turner.  “Many parents also know that their child does not do well with on-line instruction.  Many guardians have to work and need their child to be in a safe and secure environment.  Some parents just need a break.  Each of these situations are okay.”

While deciding which path is best for their child many parents are left with a less than ideal situation on both sides of the decision according to Turner.

“It is best to create a pro-con list then start addressing the cons,” said Turner. “Should a parent chose not to send children back to face to face instruction, they should begin looking into specific programs that may help their child and family be most successful.”

Turner said there are many programs available to help children with special needs during this rough transition.

“Individual counseling and behavioral supports can help keep children on track behaviorally,” said Turner. “Programs at Children and Family Counseling Associates like Character Quest ~ Adventures in Therapy provide twice weekly group social skills opportunities.  Another program for medicaid eligible participants provides one on one assistance through a community support associate.”

Turner said a community support associate can support children in their home and community environment through some of the following ways:

• Skills training, cueing or supervision as identified in the client’s individualized treatment plan

• Medication adherence and recognizing symptoms and side effects

• Non-clinical but therapeutic behavioral intervention, support and skills training

• Assistance in accessing and utilizing community resources

• Emotional regulation skills

• Crisis coping skills

• Developing and enhancing interpersonal skills

“Parents should also be sure that they are looking after their own mental health needs,” said Turner. “As a society, we need to begin looking at going to see a therapist just like we would going to a gym.  If parents are struggling with depression and anxiety right now, they should reach out and talk to a professional.”

For more information contact your child’s school or call CAFCA at 733-9241 or visit their website.

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