Autism and the Pandemic: A Mother’s Journey: Part Three

The hot topic on everyone’s lips has been the return to school.  It invades every news outlet, social media discussion/debate and almost every household some for multiple reasons.  Covid-19 has caused immense disruption in the lives of children and their education and well-being and all could agree, special needs children have suffered far more than most.  In my previous two blogs, I discussed the impact it has had on my own son, Allen.

Now that school has resumed or is set to resume soon, the topic of how children with autism and other special needs will handle the changes dominates my news feed.  For those children who will be returning to school, there is the issue of distancing and mask-wearing in their respective classrooms.  This topic has caused much controversy and I’ve experienced it firsthand.  I’ve listened to the stories on my Moms’ social media groups from all sides.  Mothers who insist their autistic child will not wear a mask under any circumstance no matter what they tried.  Some schools will not allow them to come back in-person.  Others will allow it and work on mask-wearing as part of an IEP.  

Then, the parents (I fall in this category), who are concerned about her child being exposed by another who isn’t wearing a mask.  I’ve gone back and forth about this many times.  If it was my child who was unable to wear a mask, I would want him to have access to his education and in-person is vital for an autistic child.  At the same time, I worry about the risk of my son attending a classroom where he wears a mask and others may not.  

Then there is the issue of restrictions.  How can a child that has sensory issues and is struggling to speak do so with a mask on?  A friend, whose son is also autistic was told he can’t go on the playground because it’s too difficult for contact tracing.  How do we make sure our children’s needs are being met?  Should we just be happy that they are able to go to school in-person?  What about all the children who are still unable to attend in-person for various reasons and they and their caregivers still have to navigate distance learning and services?  I look at all the challenges I’ve faced with distance learning just trying to prepare Allen to sit in front of a screen and be present without trying to run away or hide under his compression “huggy” sheet, or to get him to focus on a worksheet when he’s at home.

After school today, my son seemed very happy until we came home and he had the worst and longest meltdown I’ve ever seen.  How could I have predicted this one?  I wasn’t expecting it and nothing I did or said seemed to calm him.  How can I navigate this new and unpredictable lifestyle?  What if tomorrow we are back to distance learning?  How do I explain that to him and get us back on a new routine?  Finding a way to predictable manage the unpredictability of our new world and education for our kids is vital.

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