PUEBLO WEST — As we work to rebound from the effects of the pandemic, we’re addressing another problem that families across our state are facing, virtual learning, specifically for kids with special needs.
We spoke with a Pueblo West family who worried their child with autism is regressing without a formal in-person education. They said they aren’t getting the support they need.
The Blunt family moved to Colorado from Hawaii in February, looking for a more affordable community and better life for their kids.
“We were excited about the kids getting into new schools, meeting a lot of new friends before summer,” Kevin Blunt said.
And then the pandemic hit.
Dad Kevin Blunt works full-time for the government. Sunshine Blunt is a stay-at-home mom, who, like so many others, found herself not just running a household, but three educations- one with special needs.
“I have Makai, being autistic, and then the other two. One is in high school, one is in third grade,” Sunshine Blunt said.
Makai is on the autism spectrum and non-verbal. They were working to adjust to his new specialized education plan in District 70 when suddenly, like all the other kids, he had to start learning from home.
“Makai will have to go on a computer with a zoom meeting with his teachers or specialists, but he doesn’t have the attention span to sit in front of the screen and talk to his teacher,” Kevin Blunt said.
As part of Makai’s plan he’s also supposed to have an extended school year, to help him continue his educate and learn to colmmunicate. They’re worried he’s backsliding without in-person instruction.
“It’s not working,” Sunshine Blunt said,” I am not skilled at this. I am not trained at this. I’m Mom. There’s no discipline as far as a classroom setting. I have to keep track of one over here, then he’s running outside.”
Todd Seip, the Public Information Officer for Pueblo District 70 said just like other districts all over, they’re doing the best they can as teachers try to pioneer in this new world. There was no training or past experience they could look to, especially with kids with special needs. He knows they’re asking a lot of parents.
“This has been a really interesting learning curve for us. We think that we’ve improved over the past couple of months. We know there’s still a long way to go. We’re doing the best we can right now,” Seip said.
He said if the class is in a virtual meeting the para-professionals are there just like they would be in-erson and they can go into breakout rooms with students if needed. Teachers also reach out to students one-on-one.
In the meantime the District offering some tips to help parents cope.
“if you can keep your students on a schedule, try to provide a schedule for them that mimics as much as possible what their school schedule is,” Seip said, “If you can provide some timers, some way they can keep track of time so they’re not getting lost into the days activities.”
He encouraged parents to try to motivate their students with breaks and some exercise, outside if it’s nice enough.
Seip said teachers and principals are constantly meeting and brainstorming what works and what doesn’t. They know in person is preferred but with the positivity rate the way it is they can’t put anyone at risk. The district hopes to at least return to hybrid learning soon, something the Blunts can’t wait for.
“I’ve written into the mayor, I’ve written into the governor, I’ve written in to other media,” Sunshine said, “Nobody speaks about the children with special needs. They’re falling through the cracks. They can’t play catch up. The ones who don’t have special needs are having a hard time playing catch up. They have to figure something out.”
The Blunts said the new normal isn’t working and getting back to class can’t happen soon enough.
District 70 plans to be remote through at least January 14th. On January 5th the board is expected to make decisions for after the 14th.
I also reached out to Governor Polis’ office and the Colorado Department of Education to see if there are any directives or any extra support when it comes to virtual learning for students with special needs.
The governor’s office pointed me to the Dept. Of Education. That department pointed me to individual districts saying ‘individual school districts are in charge of how they deliver special education services to their students.’ They did provide this link to assist families.
If you are having difficulties make sure you reach out to your individual district for guidance.
Here are some of the resources D70 provided:
"The resources listed below will meet all levels and disability categories. At the end - specific to Autism CDE - Resources for parents and teachers of students with Autism, Significant Support Needs and Emotional disability"
Tarheel Reader - free online books with a wide variety of topics, can be speech enabled and are adaptable to interface with with multiple devices including a touch screen and Intellikeys
FunBrain - Engaging instructional videos with fun games for students to practice skills
Storyline Online - interactive stories
The Exploratorium - Science videos and activities through a virtual tour of the San Francisco Museum
Adapted Mind - math videos, games for students with disabilities
Specific to Autism
Helpful websites to use at home
Resources from National Partners
Links to national websites with evidence-based ASD resources, including COVID-19 specific resources for families, educators, administrators, and community partners.
- Autism Science Foundation - COVID Resources for Families
- COVID Resources for Researchers
- COVID Resources for Service Providers
- Autism Society of America-Coronavirus: Response & Resources
- Kentucky Autism Training Center- Supporting Students with ASD at home during COVID-19
- Ohio Center for Autism & Low Incidence (OCALI) - Resource Gallery of Interventions To Support Families During the COVID-19 Crisis
Links to ASD specific tools (e.g. social/communication, behavior/self-regulation, academic) for educators, families, and caregivers.
- Picture Dictionary - This dictionary contains more than 2500 illustrations with translations in more than 50 languages.
- Social Thinking - Free Social Emotional Support Strategies
- Storyline Online [storylineonline.net] - Storyline Online is a collection of interactive books.
- Wondering How to Coach Communication Partners? [rachelmadel.com] from Rachel Madel - AAC Coaching Communication Partners