Home learning a challenge for those with special needs kids – AutismSTEP
Madam Nur Hidayah Shahrudin used to take her son Rizq to parks or to Changi Airport every week so he could practise walking with his pacer gait in large open spaces.
But as social distancing and circuit breaker measures were put in place in recent weeks, her seven-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy, has had to make do with the confines of his family’s four-room flat.
Lessons at Rizq’s school, Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School, have moved online and his parents are now his “teachers”, helping him with therapy exercises.
Madam Hidayah, 33, who runs an online business in organic skincare products, is concerned that the time away from school will result in Rizq withdrawing from friends. “He was quite timid when he first started school this year, but he had been progressing in wanting to make friends in the past few months,” she said.
School closures have thrown up challenges for many families, more so for parents of children with special needs, who have to juggle working from home and ensuring the children adjust to new routines and do not regress, now that the full range of support services is not available.
STRUGGLES AT HOME
Some parents are concerned that their children’s learning may stagnate. Ms Cindy Dermawan, 44, whose 11-year-old son has autism and attends Pathlight School, said: “If this is prolonged, I’m not sure if what he has learnt at home will be adequate for any exam.”
Assistant Professor Xie Huichao, from the National Institute of Education’s psychology and child and human development academic group, is concerned that students with special needs may lose some skills they had already learnt.
“Research has documented students with disabilities and those living in more disadvantaged situations are more likely to show regress when they stay out of school for a while, like during the annual school vacation.”
Ms Jean Loo, co-founder of Superhero Me, an inclusive arts movement, said of parents with special needs children: “They are working from home, cooking, cleaning, managing the other typical siblings.”
Parents may also have difficulty explaining to non-verbal children, or those with moderate to severe autism, why routines have changed and why they must stay home.
Madam Annette Chua, who looks after three boys with mild autism, said: “Sometimes it gets very overwhelming because there is no personal downtime.”
The 36-year-old, who is on a break from her work as an entrepreneur, is the primary caregiver to her nephews, aged 11 and nine, as their parents have mental illnesses and marital problems. The boys attend Pathlight School and her own son, aged six, is in a pre-school.
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