NEW DELHI: The Covid-19 lockdown has been challenging and full of apprehensions for special education schools and centres. While a lot has been written about the transition to online learning, there are additional challenges that educators and children with special needs are facing.

Post lockdown, special education schools and centers have been forced to adapt, ensuring that children are able to follow a productive schedule. Sonia Arora, principal, Memorial Little Angle’s Inclusive School (Sonipat) said, “It is definitely a difficult time for our students as well as their parents. We are trying our level best to ensure that they are able to routinised their day, for which both one on one and group sessions are being held daily.”

She added, “We hope that their growth does not get hampered as they are being restricted from a lot of activities, especially when it comes to a child dealing with developmental delays."

Parents too have had to adapt, doubling up as teachers and educators. Supreet Manchanda, mother of a 15-year-old boy dealing with autism has changed her routine completely. While on a regular day, she would spend about 5-6 hours with her adolescent, it has now become necessary for her to spend at least 10 hours with him. She has to make sure that the schedule sent by the school is followed every day.

Since a lot of activities done in school helped her child remain active and occupied, she sometimes worries that her child might miss out on essential learning opportunities. Therefore, she has to ensure that her boy remains engaged and busy throughout the day, doing small chores. She tries to structure the overall day like an ordinary school day.

Manchanda says that while it is a task to juggle household chores and her children, she is fairly pleased with the school’s handling of the transition.

Planner given by the Memorial Little Angle’s Inclusive School to students

Vandana Sehgal, psychologist & co-founder, The Coloured Zebra said, “We are working hard and making sure that their growth does not stagnate at any point and time. I am giving students theatrical sessions 3-4 days a week to be able to develop a skill, having fun at the same time. We also give them tasks wherein their parents record them giving certain speech or messages.”

Apart from the speech and occupational therapies ‘Activities Daily Learning’ or ADL are being assigned them to keep students up to date.

Children with high IQ are encouraged to take aptitude and technical related courses.

“Specially- abled children are taught to live their life on a straight line. The novel coronavirus lockdown has posed a full stop to their routine. Therefore, I personally feel that it is our duty to get them accustomed with such a routine by gradually putting commas, and not a full stop,” Sehgal said.

Bharti Kapoor, educational psychologist, special educator, general secretary of JoyLall Memorial Educational Society and founder director at ODE learning Institute, feels that lots of counselling needs to be done right now.

She said, “I personally believe that counselling is really necessary for parents and their kids. In order to construct social behavioural skills several interesting tasks are being given to them in order to stabilise their growth.”

“It is really difficult to tackle kids with ADHD as we are not able to come up with ways to make them calm. Several difficulties are emerging regarding parents refusal to come online and provide training to their kids. There are fights that are happening between parents as well, wherein I give them marital counselling. Once this crisis gets over, I fear that we may have to start from the zero stage for the children unable to come online.” Kapoor added.

Given these challenges, schools are trying to adapt: Parent teacher meetings are held virtually from time to time, listening to the concerns of parents. Videos, documents and classroom sessions are also being sent to school groups.

Educators say that these measures are not enough, and there will either be a reduction in academic syllabus or a change in the style of questions asked once the lockdown is fully lifted and schools reopen.

Tests and worksheet provided by the schools

“While some parents are still denying to pay the fees, others are fairly happy and appreciating the efforts and provisions that are being taken from our side.” Arora said.

Baljeet Kaur, mother of a 13-year-old girl who is suffering from multiple disorders feels that the lockdown and closure of schools has brought additional challenges.

“Since the very lockdown, physiotherapists have stopped coming to our home. Although I try to give her maximum aid in almost every task but I fail to manage when it comes to physiotherapy,” she said.

Nadar is epileptic and has level 3 autism. “While physiotherapy is of utmost importance, I can clearly see some of her body parts getting stiff due to the unavailability of it. It is hard to see her suffering like this where she is not being able to handle even a glass of water properly due to the stiffness that is being created.” Kaur added.

Priyanka Malhotra, a psychologist explains that, “kids have their own kind of social life wherever they go. Not being able to go to school, special centres and therapists might obstruct their social life.”

She added, “Certain machines and tools that are only available in special centres and are far from the reach of specially-abled during these times. The lack of access might hinder their development in some parts. Also, since they are unable to follow a regular routine, their developmental stage might fall back and bring them back to square one.”

Dr. Arti Anand, consultant and clinical psychologist, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital explains, “Nowadays, people need to stay motivated and happy in order to patiently tackle the behavioural tantrums that their kids are displaying. Not only kids but also parents need to take counselling to keep showering love and warmth to their kids, as it is a difficult time for everyone.”

(Sanya Namdhari is an undergraduate from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.)