Michelle Thompson’s 6-year-old daughter, Aliyah Edward, will likely have to repeat kindergarten.
If the coronavirus crisis hadn’t forced schools to close their doors and move to remote learning, Aliyah — who has autism — would likely be able to start first grade in the fall, Thompson said.
“Unfortunately, when the child has a learning disability, they are going to struggle more,” said Thompson, who lives in Derry. “My daughter is definitely going to fall behind.”
Many students and their parents say the coronavirus crisis-induced remote learning period is resulting in higher stress levels and lower grades for students. And many parents of students with individualized education programs, or IEPs, say that their children are disproportionately negatively affected by trying to continue schooling without being in a classroom.
Sara Rocha, a behavioral health specialist at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire, said while most of the parents she works with recognize that schools are working hard to keep in touch with and help children with IEPs. However, many schools are also overwhelmed by moving education into this uncharted territory.
“I think it is an unfortunate fact that (students with IEPs) are going to be disproportionately affected,” Rocha said.
Rebecca Papadinis, a Massachusetts mental health counselor who lives in Plaistow, said that she worries about students with IEPs going forward.
“I think that the nature of this online, in many cases self-directed learning, is going to cause a learning gap for those kids (with IEPs and learning disabilities), through no fault of an education system or parent or whatever it is,” she said.
Rocha said many students also require services — like occupational, speech and physical therapy — that simply cannot be provided through a computer screen.
Even students who are able to receive the services that they normally get in school through a computer screen struggle, according to some parents.
Thompson said prior to the pandemic, Aliyah was doing well at South Range Elementary School in Derry, and when the school moved to online learning in March, teachers were doing their best to regularly check in with Aliyah.
“They do as much as they can. They can only do so much through a computer,” she said.
Thompson said unlike other parents, she needs to sit with Aliyah in order for her to get any work done.
They spend close to six hours a day with doing school work. Thompson also cares for her 10-month-old baby.
LeeAnne Mahoney of Derry said her son, an eighth-grader with ADHD — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — has struggled to do school work from home, too.
“It has been very tough to get him up and motivated to do school work online,” said LeeAnne Mahoney about her son Kyle. “In his mind it’s like, ‘How does this count?’
Mahoney has tried to recreate a school environment at home, but it’s difficult, she said.
“It is not a full learning environment,” Mahoney said. “There’s not even a library available, and you can’t make your house look like the school.”
Mahoney said Hood Middle School in Derry has been excellent with communication and resources. The school arranged to provide Kyle with a physical textbook and the special education department recently scheduled regular Zoom meetings to check in on him during remote learning.
“They are trying to help the kids that need it,” said Mahoney, adding she thinks some students will struggle with remote learning no matter what.
Mahoney pointed out she’s lucky that she’s been able to stay home with Kyle and help him with work. She feels for parents whose children have more severe learning disabilities and can’t help them.
Dawn Clatterbuck said she receives “a million calls a day” from her daughter Jessica Adams, a freshman at Timberlane Regional High who is on the autism spectrum.
Clatterbuck, who works in home health in North Andover and lives in Plaistow, said Jessica’s brothers try to help, but when their sister gets frustrated she calls her mother.
“My concern is that she isn’t really getting anything out of this,” Clatterbuck said, adding that Jessica always liked school. “Her grades matter now for her future.”
Both Rocha and Papadinis said in the weeks since remote learning began, they have seen an increased stress level in the parents of kids that they work with. Papadinis said parents should remember that everyone is struggling right now.
“Every child in the world is going to be behind in September,” Papadinis said.
Thompson said she tries to remember that no one expects her to be a trained special education teacher, but she can’t help but stress when she sees Aliyah falling behind.
“I have anxiety that I wasn’t with her enough,” she said. “As a parent, you lay there in bed at night and you think about those things.”
Advice for parents from the experts
* Remember that this is a difficult time for everyone;
* Forgive yourself when you make mistakes or when your child doesn't understand something right away;
* Remember to relax;
* Create structure;
* Speak with other parents in similar situations;
* Get creative when helping kids with new material.