How educators are ensuring special education students don't fall behind

KNOX, Ind. - With budget cuts, lack of staff, and most schools in our area heading back to virtual learning, how do students with special needs get the care they need amidst a national pandemic?

We want to introduce you to someone that has a big heart but day to day just needs a little more help than some of his classmates.

Jesus Sanchez is helping us give you a unique look into the daily struggles special education students and parents are facing during this pandemic.

"He's very caring. He's very lovable,"  Alejandra Sanchez, Jesus’s mom said. "He just brings a big joy in and he's, he's our miracle baby. He's very special."

7-year-old Jesus Sanchez always starts his day with a smile on his face.

“He knows when he's going to get ready for school, he has to get on his normal school clothes," Sanchez said.

Each day is the same because routine and structure are vital for students with disabilities.

“For them to function at their best," she said.

But what happens when that stops? Jesus’s mom says that’s when everything changes.

“Once he kind of gets a hand that he's not going to school is just basically interrupts the whole day. It's very chaotic," she said.

Earlier this year Jesus along with his classmates had to make a change. A tough one.

They were told that the school was moving online.

For other kids, it’s an adjustment, but for Jesus with has autism...

“It interrupts their whole entire life," Sanchez said. "He's a very structured kid. He has to follow each order when he doesn't get that there are meltdowns, confusion. He does get set back on a lot of things at home, and then, you know, to readjust them is difficult."

Educators that work with students like Jesus agree.

“It can be really different difficult," Teri Baker, a speech-language pathologist at Knox Elementary said.

“If you throw off their routine it could be, it could be very hard for them to recoup or get back to where they need to be," Jennifer Fletcher an applied-skills teacher at Knox Elementary said.

“We tried the quiet room. We tried everything. It was a little scary at first," Sanchez said.

Nervous and scary quickly turned into stress.

“Just in general, being a stay at home mom is very stressful. Being a stay-at-home mom with two special needs kids is beyond stressful,” she said. “To be the teacher is amazing. And to actually take that role on myself - it took a toll.”

Virtual learning could mean an over-reliance on parents when sometimes they don't necessarily know the science behind it.

“Oh, definitely, definitely. I'm having to explain it a lot to the parents and what it is," Baker said.

When Knox decided to switch to in-person learning this past September, Alejandra was excited that Jesus would have the chance to go back to school.

"They need that structure, they need that confidence that they're going to go to school, this is what they're going to do they need that reassurance from people that they see every day," Sanchez.

But that also presented it’s own set of unique challenges.

“It can be difficult with some students, because they like to be close, or they like to give a hug. And you just you do your best to kind of accommodate that in different ways, like teaching them to do a fist pump or elbow bump," Alyssa Thayer, an ED (emotional disabilities) resource room teacher at Knox Elementary.

And physical touch is important for students with disabilities.

“Very, they need those deep compressions. So a lot of times, we learn real quick how to read our students. Some students will come in stand next to us and say, squeeze, please. So we know that they need that heard, they need that touch. And we still continue to do it. Because if not, then their whole day will be set off, their behaviors will explode," she said.

It helps that, parents like Alejandra can trust their kids with teachers, therapists and para-professionals to treat Jesus and his classmates like their own.

“We're a family. Those are my kids," Fletcher said. "Our goal is just to make them happy, healthy and independent adults and love them along the way. If you don't laugh through it, you definitely will be crying by the end of the day. So learning to just roll with it. The love that they give you is unlike any other.

Of course, if you want an issue to be highlighted on our Learning Curve segment, reach out! Email us at [email protected] and we will get back to you!

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