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When it comes to e-learning, are children with disabilities at a disadvantage?

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The full effects of coronavirus on a child’s development and education have yet to be seen, but some groups of students could be worse off than others.

About 17% of children nationwide have one or more developmental disabilities, which makes the worry of educational regression real for many parents.

Erin Siebert is a mother of six children from Martinsville, Indiana whose youngest son has Down syndrome.

Siebert says she relies on a laundry list of therapies for her 3-year-old son, Fenton, to thrive, but COVID-19 changed it all.

“I remember hearing that Indiana was going to shut down and I started to panic and wonder, how am I going to do all of this with him and my kids and keeping everybody going?” Siebert said.

Siebert turned to where so many other students have also moved: the internet.

While the switch to virtual therapy sessions has added some relief, Siebert admits it has been a challenge.

“I have him and my kids in another room. Now, I’m holding him and I’m holding the phone and I’m doing the therapy. It’s a bit of a circus, but we are learning,” said the central Indiana mom.

It may be a circus, but for legal reasons, resource centers like Easterseals Crossroads has tried to help reduce the challenges by providing virtual therapy sessions.

Still, one of the challenges is screen time and while many students are able to sit in front of the screen and learn, that’s harder for students like Fenton.

“Even though his development continues, I think it has slowed down where he could be. That worries me,” added Siebert.

Dana Holcomb is the director of Children’s and Medical Services at Easterseals Crossroads and says therapists and parents are having to get creative with new ways of engaging kids. For example, teaching how to communicate their needs in a real-world setting as opposed to a classroom setting with time restraints.

Holcomb says the real-world setting does put extra pressure on parents, but both women agree academic expectations need to be adjusted during the pandemic.

And, maybe that’s alright.

“There are so many factors that influence a child’s ability to move forward that I’m not ready to say ‘because of this interruption in service, this individual will never be able to reach their full potential,” added Holcomb.

Holcomb also addressed students with disabilities who may not have access to WiFi and offered telephone solutions if necessary, even if insurance may not cover the session.

“The world may have changed, but our value to deliver resources to caregivers and people with needs hasn’t changed,” said  Holcomb, who also notes businesses like Easterseals Crossroads benefit from community support.

As for Fenton, who looked up from drawing circles on his doodle board for just long enough to give the camera a smile: “He’s happy. Education is important, is a priority, but being with family is right up there,” said Siebert.

For more information on serving children with needs during COVID-19, click here.