Special needs parenting: No Easy Choices

Jennifer Arnold by Jennifer Arnold Additional Needs

Jennifer Arnold

Jennifer Arnold

I’m passionate about raising awareness about disability issues through education and outreach. When I’m not wearing my writer hat, I’m usually tryi...

Special needs parenting: No Easy Choices

It’s been approximately one year and one month since two of my kids stepped foot in a classroom.

When schools closed and transitioned to virtual learning last Spring, like everyone else I thought it was temporary.

Then two weeks turned into two months, and they finished out the year online.

When school started last August, most schools in our area opted to go in person- either a full five days or a hybrid schedule with all precautions in place.

We live in a rural area in Northern California that hasn't felt the impact of COVID-19 as much as the bigger cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

While we opted to send two of our boys back to in-person classes, we decided not to send our son and daughter with special needs.

They both have a higher risk of complications should they catch the virus, and the schools’ quarantine policies made it uncertain that even if they did go back, they’d be back for long.

Even if they weren’t so high risk, the guaranteed inconsistency would do them more harm than good, since they thrive on routine and structure.

This past year we’ve had them both on independent study, where they complete weekly work packets and have speech therapy and DHH (deaf and hard of hearing) services online.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and my kids, their learning styles, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and forced myself to think outside the box on many occasions.

When they first started with learning at home, I tried to replicate a school setting- a specific place for them to do their work and a set schedule for them to work through each day. That went out the window by week two.

I found out through trial and error that my son works best with little chunks of work at a time, with active breaks in between.

I also learned that he’s a very hands- on, tactile learner.

He’s spent hours trying to recreate things after learning about them.

This past week it was a spaceship built out of a cardboard box after reading about astronauts.

My daughter on the other hand will work through an entire packet in one sitting, but not when she’s told to work on it.

After hours of reminders, nagging, and even bribing one day I had just about given up on her getting any work done that day when she decided at 7 p.m. that she was ready to do it.

It took her two hours- beyond the time when she should have been getting ready for bed, but I learned a lesson that day in picking my battles.

With this school year coming to a close, I have no idea what’s in store for next year.

I’ve been waffling back and forth between sending them back when I feel like it’s safe and keeping them home indefinitely because they’ve been thriving with learning at home.

The one thing I do know is that whatever choice I make won’t be easy.

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