School worries; parents of special needs students worried they will be left behind with online learning

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Isac and Nevyn McCharles play outside their Petrolia home during a break from school at home.

Stacey McCharles is worried her son, Neyvn, will be left behind in the province’s at-home learning experiment.
Nevyn is 11 and has autism. He’s been attending school, making friends and a lot of progress this year, McCharles says.
Nevyn and his brother Isac, 9, like the rest of Ontario’s students are trying to adjust to learning at home after the province closed schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
McCharles understands the reason for the closure and says she and her family are staying at home and limiting their trips outside to just doing groceries.
But schooling at home is tough. Nevyn, like other autistic children, she says, works best when he has a consistent routine and COVID-19 has turned his routine into chaos.
McCharles says the try each day to do some of the lessons, but Nevyn has a hard time concentrating on the work and sometimes refuses to do it. She spends much of her time trying to help Nevyn and isn’t able to give Isac the help he needs.
And it is frustrating for the family to watch Nevyn struggle.
“He’s come so far this year, that’s what makes me sad,” she says. “I just worry about where he’s going to be next year.”
McCharles fears her son will lose some of the skills he was gaining in the classroom.
“He already struggles as it is,” she says. “For Nevyn, being at school is a great experience for him, academically, socially, doing physical things, having someone other than my husband and I (working with him)they’ll push him to do it, where we might not
“It nice for him to have the confidence that he is succeeding …he’s making gains but now it is at a stand still.”
Laurel Liddicott-Newton, the head of the Lambton-Kent Elementary Teachers’ Federation says McCharles isn’t alone in her struggle. Autistic children, in particular, are having a hard time with the new reality of school.
“This certainly emphasizes how the drastic the cuts the government made to Autism funding limits that helped parents of our most vulnerable students are,” says Liddicott-Newton. “There is total inequality amongst family’s and access to technology, usual supports that their child with special needs would have in their classroom if schools were open.”
John Howitt, director of the Lambton-Kent District School Board acknowledges there are problems for special needs families. And he says they’re trying to make education meaningful for them. “Going to their house to work directly with them is not possible right now. We spoke to parents and resource teachers and it will look different in almost every case as it does already in every school.”
McCharles says Nevyn’s educational assistant has been wonderful, but there is only so much that can be done from a distance.
McCharles is trying to remain positive but says “It is hard to see the future….I always wonder what the future looks like for him day-to-day, hour-to-hour, because things can change… You’re doing the best you can, like everybody else is…we’re all trying to do our part.”
with files from Jenna Cocullo, local Journalism Initiative
Local Journalism Initiative