As the start of the school year approaches, parents of children with disabilities are concerned about their children’s learning and resources if schools close due to a potential outbreak of COVID-19.
“Our child’s school day looks very different than that of the typical learner,” Allison Garber tells NEWS 95.7’s The Todd Veinotte Show. “As we go into a school year where we’re dealing with many different — and necessary — public health protocols, of course, our concern now is, ‘will the resources that we already have to advocate for that are already very limited ... be available to help support our kids while school’s in session?’”
Garber, an Autism Nova Scotia board member, says that each year, parents of children with disabilities must start advocating in September or earlier about what the upcoming school year will look like for their children. Parents have to ensure their children have access to resources such as educational program assistants, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and autism specialists.
On top of that, she says parents have to confirm what the school’s learning centre looks like and they need to work with educators to develop strategies for necessary accommodations.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Garber says she’s concerned about where those resources will go and how they will be allocated if schools close.
Garber says communication about these issues could’ve come earlier and been clearer. Still, she understands no one can predict a global pandemic and that Nova Scotia’s schools have an aging infrastructure.
In the last month, Garber says the Department of Education has been working with Autism Nova Scotia. The department has answered questions put forward from families and held a briefing update earlier this week.
“What we’re being assured is that there will be plans in place,” she says. “So, we cling to that hope. I know that in the spring, again people had a bit more patience and understanding that this was unexpected [and] there were no plans in place.”
Back then, she says her son didn’t have access to an autism specialist, teaching assistant or speech-language pathologist but they were still able to get through the rest of the school year.
Recently, her son has been able to access resources virtually including virtual doctor visits. Still, Garber understands each family is different and must be examined on a case-by-case basis.
On Aug. 27, Statistics Canada released a crowdsourced report on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Canadian families of children with disabilities. According to the data, 58 per cent of parents of children with disabilities were very or extremely concerned about their children’s school year and academic success.
“We need to try and have a measured approach and be very cautious with the language and tone that we’re using when reeling in our own anxieties about this,” Garber says,” because these are kids who have been carrying a huge weight on their shoulders since March trying to make sense of the unthinkable.”
For the upcoming school year, she says families were assured they’d have access to necessary resources but weren’t told how they’d be allocated.
“This really is a matter of healthcare,” she says. “When you take these resources away from a child with a developmental disability, it’s very similar to taking a physical mobility support away from a child with a physical disability.
“We need to acknowledge that and make sure we have a plan in place because the consequences of taking these away are long-lasting and it’s something that child will pay for for years to come.”