HILLIARD, Ohio (WCMH) – Approaching his 7th-grade year at Hilliard Memorial Middle School, Alex Bing was exceeding his parents’ expectations and defying doctors’ earlier prognoses.
“Alex has come a long way. They said years ago Alex wouldn’t be where he’s at now,” said Alex’s mother Patricia Waters.
The 13-year-old who is nonverbal and lives with cerebral palsy uses an electronic tablet to communicate and a wheelchair for mobility. Waters praised her son’s team at Hilliard City Schools for improving his social, behavioral and physical skills.
“Everything that gets done for him is dependent on myself, his parents, teachers and his aids,” she said.
Waters works several jobs to afford services for her son. When COVID-19 health concerns forced all Ohio students to finish the 2019-2020 school year remotely, the family struggled to give him the same attention he requires in school.
“As far as him wanting to sit and learn, we’ve had difficulties with that,” she said. “He gets frustrated and then we get frustrated. It’s just an emotional roller coaster.”
By the time the spring term ended, Waters noticed a regression in Alex’s behavior and key skills.
“I think it’s affected him, not only socially, but physically as well because he’s not getting his physical therapies and occupational therapies he was getting in school,” she said. “It breaks my heart, it really does.”
Nonprofit education and therapy center Bridgeway Academy has been fielding questions and providing resources for families of children with disabilities during the pandemic. Certified school psychologist Dr. Julie Henzel tells parents not to be too hard on themselves.
“I think it’s important to have realistic expectations,” she said. “Acknowledge we’re all going through a collective trauma, if you will.”
Dr. Henzel said children are often more resilient than we credit them for and she encouraged parents to include their children in decisions and conversations about their education.
She provided the following tips for families:
- Connect and collaborate with school support staff: don’t be afraid to ask questions,ask for help, give feedback, and brainstorm different ways of doing things. Ask support staff to teach you how to “coach” your child through learning tasks.
- Prepare yourself and your child for what to expect: practice the technology ahead of time. Explain why we are doing things differently in developmentally appropriate and age appropriate ways.
- Plan the work environment: set up a “home base” learning station for your child that is relatively free from distractions and where you can monitor and support them. Have all necessary supplies ready to go. Avoid having your child do their work in their bedroom.
- Set a routine and schedule that’s workable for your child and family: consider making a visual schedule or “to do list.” Allow your child to check-off tasks completed and consider building in rewards for completing tasks. Try to build in time for you to complete other necessary tasks into your child’s schedule. Use technology to your advantage such as setting reminders or alarms on computers, watches, and Alexa. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments as needed.
- Attend to you and your child’s social-emotional and self-care needs. Model healthy problem-solving, self-care, and stress management skills. Be intentional about providing them adequate opportunities to connect with family and friends, get exercise and movement, and fresh air. Make sure they are staying hydrated, eating balanced meals, and healthy snacks to keep their energy up. Have open and ongoing conversations about changes, feelings, and stressors.
- Try to mimic elements of school day that are helpful; including special accommodations or tools that your child typically uses: having set bedtime and wake up times, following morning routines, getting dressed for school, having a “recess” period, increased movement breaks, access to fidgets, being allowed to stand-up or move around in the work environment.
Waters explained that her biggest fear for her son is the long-term effects of being away from in-person learning.
“I’m just afraid that them being out of school for a long period of time is going to set not only him back, but other students as well,” she explained.
She’s trying to adapt to the changes and hopes Alex can as well.
“Is he going to focus and move forward or is this actually going to set him back,” she questioned.
Here are some resources for families and educators: