Parents of special needs children face unique challenges through distance learning

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. — It came as no surprise to some when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday public schools in New York State would remain closed for the rest of the academic year, meaning parents will have to juggle work and homeschooling their children for a few more weeks.

For parents who have children with special needs, the change in routine, the balance of academics, work, and speech therapy, among other things, can become overwhelming.

Maggie Burlingame has a 16-year-old special needs daughter named Danielle, and never thought she’d have to take on the task of becoming her teacher, speech therapist, and occupational therapist all at once.

“Danielle really does struggle, she’s used to a routine. She’s very routine-oriented, and she has OCD issues as well. So, this new routine of being at home and not going to school, it wasn’t going very well,” Burlingame said.

Though Burlingame said she has come up with a daily schedule and is slowly adapting to teaching her daughter the curriculum, there is more to school for special needs children than just learning.

“I have Danielle in dance classes. I’ve tried karate. We did challenger baseball. We do all sorts of activities to try to get her to socialize because being nonverbal she really kind of stays to herself, but at least in school there’s set activities. She needs that play. She needs that interaction. She needs that socialization,” Burlingame said.

Social isolation is something Burlingame said can be detrimental to Danielle’s progression.

“I mean, I can’t really be helping her with these things. She’s not getting what she truly needs to make any sort of progress. I’m trying to basically just keep her on the level that she’s at and not see too much regression,” Burlingame said.

Although Burlingame said Danielle has adapted to being at home, that can all change once school is back in session.

“As much as she’s had to adapt to this new format, I think it’s going to be a struggle to go back to the old format, too,” Burlingame said.

Burlingame said while teaching Danielle has been no easy task, she is thankful to have her entire family together, to lean on each other as they navigate their “new normal.”