Special needs children during Lockdown
Acknowledging input from content of Conversation, written by psychology lecturers at the University of the Western Cape.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the education of hundreds of millions of children across the world. In South Africa, schools were shut down but currently many children are once again at home for a month. This places many children at risk of losing out on learning time. Particularly at risk are children who have various learning and behaviour difficulties.
These children require specialised education and support. Their challenges may affect their ability to learn as well as to socialise. For instance, a child who has been diagnosed with dyslexia will encounter difficulty in reading, writing and comprehension skills. A child who struggles to focus attention will lack concentration skills.
More importantly, there are many children whose challenges have not been recognised or diagnosed. Their parents may be slowly realising that they are not coping as well as expected with the home schooling tasks allocated or the behaviours needed to ensure progress with school learning.
Children need individualised adjustments to their learning to help ensure that they are falling behind during the lockdown. For example, some may need ‘scaffolding’. This is a process of modelling or demonstrating how to solve a problem, then stepping back and offering support to a child as needed. Parents may need to adapt activities to make the work more user-friendly for their child. And they can work alongside the child to build confidence.
It is also vital for parents to try and maintain structure and routine in their homes in order to help children feel secure. An example of this is a young autistic child who showed emotional insecurities during the lockdown. He struggled to wake in the mornings, refused to cooperate and resisted learning. Things improved when his parents dressed him in his school uniform and reverted to following the usual morning and school routine. The familiar structure and pacing in his daily life helped restore his sense of being safe.
Before the pandemic, parents normally had the support of teachers and therapists to help them know how best to support a child in need. They also served as a source of information. This was a lifeline for many and helped to facilitate learning and teaching. Many parents are finding that they don’t have the emotional resilience or the training to cope with children who show learning difficulties.
In our present Alert Level 3 lockdown stage, it is possible to access ILT practitioners to help identify the cause of learning difficulties and to use the enforced time at home to perhaps help overcome the reasons for the learning difficulty.
Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) is a home-based programme that is tailored to the individual needs of a child. As such, it can be a valuable aid when parents and children have time to focus on crucial activities that have been shown to positively increase children’s learning abilities. ILT practitioners can use safe protocols during an initial evaluation session and thereafter, families only need to revisit at six-weekly intervals. This ensures maximum social distancing as well as being cost-effective.