As we approach the start of the 2020-2021 school year here in southeast Michigan, many parents are facing the reality of back to school during COVID-19 being like nothing we’ve experienced before.
An Uncertain School Year
Many public school districts in this area are opening with only a full remote school option due to COVID-19. This post is not to get into a debate on whether remote school is the best option right now. We know there are parents who want their child to go to school in person. And we know other parents who don’t want to send their child back to school in person.
The reality is, for many students with IEPs, distance learning is not a viable or meaningful option. This can be because they are not receiving the numerous supports and services they receive in person. They may have trouble attending to a screen or processing all that is happening in an online meeting. Or parents may have to work and not be able to support them through their remote school day.
Unfortunately, in-person or a hybrid plan may not be a viable option for children with compromised immune systems and underlying health conditions.
In the past we’ve written “back to school” blog posts like Back to School Tips for Parents of Different Learners. We created those resources to help parents with the transition from summer break to school. But going back to school during COVID-19 is like nothing anyone has experienced before. Read on for some ideas and resources to help you with a remote start to school, as well as returning to school in-person, and homeschooling your child with autism.
For those who are navigating a remote start to the school year with your child who receives special education services, you may be feeling overwhelmed. It’s totally understandable! We’ve compiled a variety of ideas, that may help. From visual schedules to establishing routines, to positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), to IEP resources to help you navigate your rights.
Educational Advocacy Resources
Michigan Alliance for Families is a wonderful support organization for families who have children with disabilities to help them navigate their educational resources. They have a specific COVID-19 page on their website with many resources specific to how this pandemic is impacting education. And their Distance Learning page has a variety of additional resources for a remote start back to school.
The Autism Alliance of Michigan has some back to school resources for families. This is a great blog post about advocacy and what your rights are in regard to your child’s IEP and special education services.
Another great resource is the Michigan Alliance for Families YouTube channel. They’ve posted recordings of past webinars specific to COVID-19, special education and distance learning.
We know that for many kids, visual schedules can help reduce problem behaviors. Visual schedules help them know what to expect. They are a neutral way to communicate what they need to do and what is coming, rather than you verbally having to ask (or nag) them over and over. Check out these visual schedules from And Next Comes L, like the School Morning Routine Chart, the After School Routine Chart and others. And Understood.org, a great resource for students with learning challenges, offers several free visual schedule downloads.
Distance Learning Resources
Understood also has some Distance Learning resources for both families and educators. There is info on how focusing for remote school can be even more challenging for many kids. And they offer some tips to help. And Next Comes L also provides specific Distance Learning resources for teachers, therapists and parents. If your child is struggling to understand why they aren’t going to school in person, she has a free social story download School is Closed. And she has tips on how to best support your autistic child on Zoom meetings. Definitely check that one out!
Accessing Their Education
If your child needs individual, in-person support to access their remote school, you may need to hire someone to help. Whether you work outside the home, have other children to take care of, or simply don’t feel equipped to become your child’s para professional, definitely reach out for help. Start with your child’s school to find out how their IEP will be fulfilled. Network with other parents to find out how they are managing it. If your child receives ABA Therapy, ask your provider if distance learning behavioral support may be an option. Check out local universities with education programs. You may be able to find a special education student who is looking for some income and experience in their field.
Returning to School In Person
Back to School Anxiety
If your child is heading back to school in person, they may be experiencing some anxiety after such an extended break from school. Here are some resources to help with this transition from And Next Comes L.
Wearing a Mask
If your child’s school is asking (or requiring) students wear a mask, here are a few social stories about wearing masks to help them get used to it. Here is a video version and a printable version from Autism Little Learners specific to wearing a mask at school.
Some families are considering homeschooling their child for various reasons. Maybe remote school doesn’t work well for their child, or they have health issues making in-person school a risk. Homeschooling may also provide the flexibility to continue with their therapies from the summer (ABA therapy, speech and occupational therapies).
Resources to help
If you’re considering homeschooling your child with autism, but aren’t sure where to start, here are a few resources. First, check out this blog post from the Friendship Circle – Tips for Homeschooling Your Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Applied Behavior Analysis Program Guide has an extensive list of possible homeschool curricula for students with autism. If you’re on Facebook, there are numerous homeschool groups specific for children with autism. There are sure to be some full of tips and recommendations.
Ready or not, it’s here!
As you prepare for this unique year heading back to school during COVID-19, we hope these ideas and resources help. Whether preparing for remote school, an in-person or hybrid plan, or you are diving into homeschooling your child, we wish you a successful start to school. Remember you have what it takes for whatever lies ahead!
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