Tag Archives: education support

Supporting Families’ Mental Health

By: Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley Social Services Team

Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley’s family services team provides information, education, and support that address the concerns and stressors that may accompany having a child with a developmental delay or disability. In the past eleven months, these services and support for families were more vital than ever.

As we all gathered as much information about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as we could, it still left many unanswered questions, especially for children and caregivers, on how to communicate the potential illness changes. Social Worker Yvonne D. Anderson, LCSW, CADC, CODP II, shared many short stories to introduce resources and bring clarity and comfort to young children while their everyday routines are disrupted.  Our team quickly pulled together resources on wearing masks, social stories for a number of situations, and indoor activity ideas. Many can be found here.

Mental Health Needs

We also helped parents and caregivers of children with disabilities face overwhelming demands and difficult decisions based on the pandemic, stress of remote learning and loss of usual supports. As a recent NPR story shares, “(Lindsey) is one of almost 3 million children in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with a serious emotional or behavioral health condition. When the pandemic forced schools and doctors’ offices closed last spring, it also cut children off from the trained teachers and therapists who understand their needs.”

We know there will continue to be elevated needs and all of our clinicians, parent liaisons and social workers are participating in specialized training to broaden our mental health support services and help keep children and their families emotionally strong.

Clinical Successes

June* is a 9-year-old girl who has been treated for the past four years for anxiety through monthly social work visits.  Monthly visits were adequate to meet her needs and keep her anxiety at a level that did not affect her daily activities.  However, due to continued difficulties with school, it was recommended that June obtain a Neuropsychological evaluation.  The family had just completed the evaluation when the pandemic hit and home quarantine began, turning June’s world upside-down.   (*All children’s name or other identifying information has been updated.)

In March 2020, June began receiving weekly social work services to reduce her feelings of anxiety and to cope with staying home, remote learning and separation from her grandparents. June shares a close relationship with her grandparents and was used to seeing them daily, and suddenly she was not allowed to see them at all. June went to school every day, but her school shut down when quarantine started, and she began remote learning. Remote learning intensified her difficulties at school, and she began to resist attending school. Then June started to have nightmares about her family contracting COVID and dying, resulting in difficulty sleeping.

In April 2020, June increased to social services twice a week, and her treatment focused on reducing her anxiety. The results of her Neuropsychological evaluation were received, and she was diagnosed with dyslexia and severe dyscalculia. June’s parents were assisted in finding tutors for June to help with her reading and math delays and working with her school to adjust her expectations. June attends a private school and did not have access to having an individualized education plan initiated. Her school needed to be educated on these disorders and understand how they affected June’s ability to comprehend math and reading.

June continued to work with social work services twice a week from May through December 2020, working on adjusting to her new diagnoses and how it impacted her school performance, reducing her anxiety, coping with COVID, and being separated from her extended family and friends.

With a lot of hard work, adjusting home and school expectations, developing safe ways to visit her grandparents and implementing new coping strategies, June has reduced her counseling visits back to once a week. Her Easterseals social worker has been a big part of her success. The social worker, school, tutors, and parents, all worked together to advocate for changes and help her apply coping strategies to reduce her anxiety. 

Support for Virtual Learning & Socialization

Additionally, we found ways to assist families struggling to provide socialization and educational supports during their time at home. In one situation, a five-year-old with autism struggled with virtual learning and a new visual schedule helped the family manage school Zoom calls and other activities. By pairing mask wearing with screen time, it helped him get used to wearing a mask in order to successfully return to in-person learning.

Another child, Megan, needed support with safe socialization opportunities during the pandemic. By problem solving and working with the family, Megan was able to schedule virtual play dates, outdoor socially distanced scavenger hunts with neighbors, and more.

Support for Loss, Diagnosis and Care

One of the more difficult but vitally important aspects of caring for a child or adult with disabilities, is planning for care should something happen to a caregiver. During the pandemic, as parents realized their vulnerability in potentially contracting covid-19, we helped with guidance and resources to solidify care plans. While difficult, one set of parents planned for scenarios such as isolation from their seven-year-old medically fragile son if one of them became sick. Having a plan in place, helped ease the anxiety and the unknown of a virus we were all still learning about.

Many of our families have a large network of friends and family to support one another while caring for a loved one with disabilities. The pandemic cut off many of those support systems or diminished the ability to safely gather and care for one another in different households. Then, when a beloved grandparent ended up in the hospital for one of our families, they needed coping strategies to help with the inability to see their family member and more support after his passing. We were able to create new rituals for visiting virtually, help with saying goodbye and finding meaning in this difficult loss. These are tough concepts for any child and hard to understand when these visits and goodbye is virtual.

While a loss of a family member is difficult to process for all, we understand the loss of a job can also bring similar feelings of grief and anxiety to a family. As the primary wage earner in his family, when Josh was fired from his job, he felt lost and overwhelmed on how to help his family’s many needs. With the help of the social work team at Easterseals, he was connected with various resources from rent assistance, food pantries and free internet service to enable his children to attend school virtually.

One resource that has been helpful for families is Internet Essentials from Comcast, a low-cost, high-speed internet at home. During the stay-at-home order, a home Internet connection was more essential than ever for families. Comcast provides the Internet service and computers along with free training for the family. Families can get approved if they qualify for programs like the National School Lunch Program, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI and others. Learn more at: https://www.internetessentials.com/apply.

More than ever, we are reminded no one is truly alone at Easterseals. We fostered connections between families and found virtual opportunities to connect. We help reduce the many difficult child care decisions in a pandemic and find solutions that fit each family’s unique needs. Visit eastersealsdfvr.org or stay tuned to our Facebook page for more resources, parenting webinars and support in transitioning children back into school.

Support for Special Education Services in a Pandemic

By: Sharon Pike, Parent Liaison, with Brad Dembs, J.D., Matt Cohen & Associates

Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley clinicians and staff provide information, education and support that address the concerns and stressors which may accompany having a child with a developmental delay or disability.  As a parent liaison at Easterseals, a highly trained parent of a child with a disability, we provide caregivers support from the unique perspective of someone “who has been there.” To provide more virtual support, we are connecting our favorite professionals to you through free webinars that answer your needs during this unique time.

Towards the end of the summer, we hosted a live Q&A event where caregiver’s asked questions to prepare for the complex upcoming school year with COVID-19 and how to best advocate for their children’s unique needs.

Now that school has been in session, join us for Part 2 on October 1 at 5:30 PM. Register for the Special Education: Remote, Hybrid & In-School Learning Check-In by clicking here.

Discussions was led by Brad Dembs, J.D., an Attorney with Matt Cohen and Associates, a law firm who specializes on special education, disability rights, and school-related issues. The following is paraphrased from the original discussion to provide insight to any who missed.

In general, caregivers for children who have an IEP are an essential part of their child’s education, now more than ever.

Q1: With so much conflicting information on education plans, and things changing so often, how can parents actually plan, or prioritize the most important parts of a child’s education right now?

The first step in answering this question would be to determine what’s the most essential part of your child’s educational goals. Ask yourself questions such as “What skills is my child learning and developing,” “Where was my child’s progress when remote learning started,” “Where did my child’s goals on their IEP expect them to be by now,” and “Has my child’s learning progressed, failed to progress, or regressed since remote learning started?” Asking yourself these questions can help clue you into what aspects of learning are most important to focus on. 

For many families, the most critical areas to prioritize are the development of threshold skills. For example, learning to read is a crucial threshold skill. Reading is used in all subjects and is one of the key fundamental building blocks of educational learning. If reading is something your child struggles with, that is something to prioritize when talking to your child’s teacher and about your child’s needs. Another essential threshold skill to focus on could include social skill development. It depends on your child and their disability, but in general, it’s helpful to think about the question “What does my child need now to take them to the next step” when thinking about educational goals to prioritize. 

Therapy Minutes & IEP

Q1: What are our rights in regards to e-learning and therapy minutes for remote learning?

A: As a parent, your rights have not changed. You are entitled to the same minutes that are in your child’s IEP. However, the reality is that school districts don’t have the same capacity to provide all those minutes or the ability to offer them in the same way they did in the past. Because of this, you must be flexible with your expectations even though your rights have not changed.

Q2: What should I expect for IEP minutes for OT & PT when a child usually received individual treatment. In the Spring, I was emailed a lesson, no Zoom tele-therapy offered. Is this correct?

A: No, and especially no, if there was not a discussion about it. This is what we would call a unilateral change outside the IEP process and is inappropriate. I would recommend putting a request in writing about the minutes that are needed and why those minutes are required. It always helps to have things in writing and to have additional support for what you’re requesting. If your child sees a private ST, PT, OT or mental health therapist and those clinicians provide a letter attesting to your child’s needs; it further validates your school district request. 

Service Minutes & Remote Learning

Unfortunately, not every school district will fulfill every obligation the way it is supposed to, and you may have to advocate for those services with methods discussed previously. Being flexible with your expectations is necessary as the guidance received from the State Board of Education is somewhat inconsistent and much is dependent on available funding and resources at each school district.

If you have any concerns about your child’s services, it is essential to request a meeting with your district and express your concerns. Start with what’s in the IEP and let them know what you have determined as a team for your child needs going forward. 

Again, make the process as collaborative as possible, be communicative in writing about what you’re looking for with your school district. If possible, provide documentation about why the request is essential and needed (more below and in resources). If you or another caregiver are home when your child receives remote learning, you have more insight because you have more opportunities to see what’s going on in your child’s education and see if what’s written in the IEP is being provided.

Q1: How do I communicate concerns with regression and remote learning?

A: Caregivers need to gather as much data as they can about how their child is performing. Because schools see their children less in remote learning, it’s essential for parents to be that resource and tell their child’s school what they can and can’t do. If remote learning is becoming impossible for your child, it is a tough position to be in.

In this situation, we recommend you talk to your school about having a teacher or service provider come to the home and provide service at a responsible distance. The accommodation is unfortunately unlikely, but it never hurts to ask. The end decision is up to the individual school district’s discretion. If you’re in a position where your school denies at-home accommodations, keep track of your child’s regression to be ready to advocate for more intensive services to make up for the regression when more in-person learning and services are available. 

This is called compensatory education, which refers to services that are needed above what has been provided to make progress that should have been made without a gap of service in the first place. This could include extra therapy minutes or more intensive instruction.

A Return to School

Q1: Some disabilities make it difficult to comply with COVID precautions, how can we navigate these to ensure the safety of all children but continue our child’s education?

A: This would need to be taken on a case by case basis depending on what the situation is. The Board of Education and Department of Public Health’s guidance is relatively general, and the end discretion is left up to the school district. In the case of masks, if a child cannot wear a mask, a face shield may be recommended as a reasonable substitute. Still, the child would have to practice social distancing as rigidly as possible because there is less protection with a face shield than a facemask. Not every school will allow children to wear face shields because it could be considered a significant alteration of their safety precautions. Some children who cannot wear a facemask may also not be able to wear a face shield. In other more extreme cases, a child who cannot comply with school safety procedures such as wearing a mask may be asked to remain in remote learning even when other children go back to school. 

Q2: How should students with disabilities who require one-to-one paraprofessionals be accommodated in a plan that emphasizes 6 feet of social distancing?

A: This may be a scenario where the support that’s written in the IEP may have to be changed due to practical considerations. The child’s individual needs need to be assessed alongside safety practices. This would depend on whether the child can attend school without the help of a paraprofessional. If they cannot, and it’s still possible to have safety protection in place via wearing a mask, it may be appropriate to have an aide closer than 6 feet. Schools should be training and updating their staff on safety procedures, particularly related to individual students with disabilities. Individual accommodations will need to considered by staff to make it possible for students with disabilities to attend safely. 

Q3: Can I request certain precautions to be taken if my child goes back to school in the Fall? My child likes to lick and put her fingers/hands in her mouth.

A: You have the right to request accommodations for safety. You should discuss this with your district and any outside providers your working with as they can help you determine what can be done to accommodate any safety issues or concerns. This is a challenging example because accommodations of gloves or other hand protection could quickly become contaminated as easily as bare hands. This is a case where a collaborative effort would need to be reached between your education provider and any other outside clinicians. If no attempts work, the school should be willing to accommodate and continue to provide remote learning. 

Resources

Matt Cohen & Associates provide a number of resources that can help document needs and open communication with your child’s education providers. See the links below.

This is a big topic that has many variables for each child’s needs and school district. For more information, there are recorded presentations on our website that go into detail at: https://www.mattcohenandassociates.com/presentations/

Parent Liaisons at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley have firsthand experience with IEP meetings and are available to answer questions or provide resources on the topic. For more information, visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/explore-resources/for-caregivers/iep-help.html.