CARROLL CO. (WMAR) — As school systems prepare for virtual learning in the fall, so are parents and it’s hitting hard especially for kids with special needs.
Parents are struggling to keep them plugged in and the students are struggling to stay focused.
"It’s a big struggle to even get him to come to the computer. He would get very upset," said mom Megan Vasco.
She and her husband Pete live in Carroll County with their three kids, who are going into fourth, second grade and kindergarten.
Spring virtual learning was a challenge, especially for middle child Ronnie, who has autism.
"He would actually take his backpack out of the closet and hang it on the chair where it’s supposed to be because 'I’m in school' and it took weeks for him to get away from doing that," said Pete Vasco.
It was obvious he missed that structure that school provided him. Megan said he could only spend about a sixth of the time doing online instruction as opposed to in school, because he had a hard time focusing, so he started to regress with behavior and learning.
"He’s never had any sort of aggressive behavior and he would pinch my arm and squeeze my arm and just get really mad," said Megan. "He is absolutely not going to be able to add new skills to his bag for however long his home. I will consider it a success if he doesn’t lose too much."
"Watching him just love school as much as he loves school and watching him take these steps forward and starting to say words and he crushed his IEP last year and we were so proud of him, so to see this regression and the ominous future of if this keeps going he's going to keep regressing and regressing, that’s what keeps me up at night," said Pete.
And they aren’t the only families going through this.
"An increase in challenging behaviors, increase in anxiety. There’s a lot of confusion around this time," said Arianna Esposito, director of lifespan services and supports with Autism Speaks.
She said most families have felt the disruption and an increased need for the in person support schools offer.
"Behavior therapy, occupational therapy, speech, physical therapy," said Esposito.
Since the pandemic, Autism Speaks has launched a resource library that includes trainings for parents.
"What we have also heard is that parents want, during this time, if they are able to, to learn more about how they can best support their child, what are additional tips and tricks," said Esposito.
But it’s not always the solution.
"I don’t feel like I’m overwhelmed. I know how to handle his behaviors. I know how to do it but the problem is he doesn’t look at me like a teacher," said Megan.
The Vascos know virtual-only learning is not an option for him in the fall. Ideally, they want him in school if it’s safe, but they really just want support.
"He needs someone in the house that’s not his parent that he looks to as a different role to focus him and therefore give me the opportunity to have some time to work with the other two kids as well," said Megan.
"You certainly want to be safe but there’s got to be a middle ground between being safe and doing whats right for children," said Pete.
"We’re doing them a major disservice if we don’t try to think outside the box and figure out a way to give these kids some form of routine and give the parents some help too."
One piece of advice Esposito had to give for any family with a child on a behavior plan who is struggling, make sure your whole family gets trained in that behavior plan.
"That consistency in responding can provide a sense of predictability and routine that’s really difficult to provide right now," said Esposito.
Carroll County Public Schools is working on its reopening plan and will present it to the Board of Education for approval next Wednesday.