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by Shay Stinson and Lisa Williams, PhD

We love to bring our readers and followers as many perspectives on various topics as possible. Last week, we shared what available research and a few parents said about youth attending a traditional brick-and-mortar school this upcoming fall semester versus the option of attending virtual program. So, we’d like to share more insight into the concerns of continuing traditional school during the COVID-19 pandemic from a licensed professional counselor, specifically about children with functional challenges and certain special needs. We asked our therapist, Lisa Williams, PhD to weigh in on the topic in response to the following question: 

Virtual learning is being embraced by many school systems and may be the only option for some in the future. | Photo by Patrick Amoy on Unsplash

Q: What are your concerns about online instruction for children with functional challenges? 

A: [There are] so many unknowns,” was the comment from a fifth-grade educator in a teacher support group hosted. Phone calls are being made to families to provide them with the options of attending school online or to attend face-to-face. This is a very difficult decision for parents to make who have children with functional challenges. One parent stated, “My daughter’s learning disabilities fall between the cracks in Google Classroom.The concerns that I have, as a licensed professional counselor, regarding online instruction for children with functional challenges are that there are so many working parts that must come together to efficiently meet the needs of students with functional challenges and those parts sometimes fall apart and the services are not provided, causing a gap in care.  

Traditional school provides the opportunity to learn social skills, character development among peers. | Photo by Arthur Krijgsman from Pexels

As Angie Krum noted in her article in ADDitude Magazine, “When things were normal, my daughter also met with speech, occupational and physical therapists during the school week to strengthen skills in decoding, language processing, therapeutic listening, handwriting, and core strength.” When parents make the decision to use the online instructional method, they run the risk of missing out on the required services that are available to the student within their school environment. School districts may make attempts to provide these services virtually; however, we still have to consider how students are receiving these virtual services, if there are any barriers within the household environment that may be a distraction like siblings, and if the students are consistently taking their medication to help them focus. Other concerns that I have are the ability of the parent to take on the role of facilitator once they make the decision to use online education. It is more common for educators and specialists to meet the students’ needs during the school day. However, for online instruction, the parent is put in a position to manage behaviors, support the teachers, and encourage their students to complete their coursework. This is done without the support of the specialist being physically present. 

Lastly, the home environment itself may prevent as a barrier to the success of the student. For example, all things must be considered, including family issues, exhausted and overwhelmed parents, lack of technology, and a working parent, to name a few.  

 We are hopeful that when the school bell rings for the 2020-2021 school year, everyone will be flexible in order to meet the needs of every child, every family, and every education professional. Stay tuned to our blog for more info on this subject, as we work towards the road to continued educational success.  

Williams joined Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. in February 2020 in Mobile Ala. | Photo courtesy of WIlliams.

*Lisa Williams, PhD was born in Staten Island, New York and raised in Austin, Texas. She currently holds a Doctorate of Public Administration with a concentration in Criminal Justice and Rehabilitation Counseling, a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Anthropology, all from Valdosta State University. She has a Master’s in Vocational Rehabilitation from Thomas University and a Master’s Degree in Social Work with a certification in Trauma from Tulane University. Her education is complemented by over 20 years of experience, during which she provided a wide variety of correctional, educational, counseling, and public safety support services to a diverse population in the mental health field and juvenile justice system. She has more than 10 years of experience as a parent advocate within the educational system assisting parents to prepare and understand the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and support in the IEP meetings.

Her hobbies include model coaching, working out, cooking, and planting. She is part of The Neighbor Center that focuses on reentry initiatives for offenders entering backing into their communities.

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