Story at a glance

  • Schools have been closed and classrooms are shifting to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Parents and educators are concerned about the “summer slide,” especially with students who are already struggling in school.
  • Understood is a free resource for families and teachers to turn to during this time.

With many schools closed through the end of the year, public schools in Washington, D.C., as well as counties in Georgia, Texas and a handful of other states, have announced an early end to the school year. Some experts are concerned about the potential setback for students, now called the "COVID slide," whose lives have already been disrupted by the pandemic. 


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“The guess is that the learning loss is going to be much greater than it would be in a regular summer,” said Trynia Kaufman, a senior manager at Understood, a nonprofit initiative. “With distance learning, we know that most kids won't have made as much progress as they would have if they would have been in the classroom.”

For children with learning disabilities or attention issues, school was already difficult, Kaufman said, so those losses will likely be compounded. Students who relied on educational support and services might not be able to access all the same resources remotely. Understood provides free educational resources for children with learning disabilities or attention issues, including ADHD and dyslexia, as well as support for their families.

“We’re trying to give them the support that can help them during this time and that includes socially and emotionally, as well as academically,” she said.

The website has resources for parents, students and educators, from articles providing tips and tricks for remote learning to discussion groups and livestreams with experts. Kaufman said it's important for families to maintain a routine and even continue to do activities they would have done before the pandemic, such as playing games and spending time with family. 

“We want to do whatever we can to harness kids' motivation during this time, because we know that because of the stress and anxiety a lot of kids are struggling to focus on school,” she said. “The more that we can help kids find that motivation for things that they’re interested in and want to pursue the more that we can keep that learning going.”


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For parents who are now working remotely while their children study at home, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between work and parenting. Communicating closely with teachers and setting clear boundaries, perhaps a check-in time for when you meet with your child to see how their school work is going, can be vital, especially for those who think and learn differently. Overall, Kaufman said, be patient and understand that your children will move at their own pace. 

“Focus on helping your child to take some of that ownership and learn some of these self management and self regulation strategies,” she said. “Make it ok and let your kid know that it's ok to not be perfect everyday, because this is a learning process for all of us.”

A former teacher herself, Kaufman said that while unwelcome, the coronavirus pandemic provides families and educators with an opportunity to reconsider traditional approaches to education, especially for children with learning disabilities or attention issues.

“There’s such a stigma of people thinking that they’re not smart and they’re not motivated enough, and I think that this situation is really going to flip that on its head, because a lot of kids are going to be behind,” she said. “It’s really taking away that blame game or that deficit model and focusing on kids’ capabilities and how we can change their environment.”

When schools reopen, whether it is next fall or even later, students will likely be in vastly different places. Instead of teaching to the average, Kaufman said, educators would be better served learning to teach to the margins, as the gap widens. 

“The gap is going to continue to widen and this is going to affect kids who learn and think differently, kids who have special education needs,” she said. “The more that we can redesign our thought processes of how we’re going to come back to school and how can we redesign these schools in a way that's going to meet kids where they are and really support their individual needs.”


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Published on Apr 30, 2020