Since March, Melissa and her husband have gutted their savings, spending more than $5,000 caring for their three children. Most of the money has gone to child care and speech therapy for their daughter Nora. Two weeks ago, the couple put their house up for sale.
Five-year-old Nora is on the autism spectrum and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, her mother says. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Nora attended school full time in the Katy Independent School District and had access to a suite of behavioral therapists, speech therapists and special education teachers. But that resource lifeline has been cut for nearly six months, and her parents have only been able to afford select specialists since.
She’s at an age when special education intervention and socializing with other kids are crucial. Without them, she could lose out on building key skills — like learning how to intuitively communicate with others — that she may never pick back up. It only takes two weeks without school for Nora to regress. Since schools closed, Melissa has noticed it’s harder for her daughter to pick up on social cues, like when someone speaks to her and it doesn’t click that she has to respond.
“She’s starting to become more self-aware of other kids not liking her, so she’s not even willing to practice those skills anymore, so that’s a little heartbreaking,” said Melissa, who asked the the family’s last name not be used to protect their privacy. “I don’t know if she’ll become more reclusive because of that or if she’ll be able to pick that back up.”
Nearly 10% of Texas public school students — about half a million — receive special education services through their schools, which offer help with a wide range of behavioral, emotional and physical challenges.
When schools shuttered in the spring, many families were left to manage their children’s learning and seek out special services, like therapy, on their own. Educators, many new to remote teaching themselves, struggled to adapt students’ individual learning plans to a virtual world.
For students with more intensive needs, both cognitive and physical, being at home without access to the many professionals they work with is an “incredible burden to put on parents,” said Lindsay Jones, chief executive officer of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Families don’t have the training to provide the support their children need, she said. Districts need to provide ways to get parents those services online and in “unique and creative ways.”