Children with special needs could struggle with school safety precautions

Returning to school after months at home is going to be difficult for many children. Plus, schools will have new routines and safety precautions, like wearing masks and regular hand washing, which will be unfamiliar to many children. As parents worry about their kids' ability to adapt, parents of children with special needs have even more challenges to consider.

Posted Updated

Lora Lavigne
, WRAL reporter; Heather Leah, WRAL multiplatform producer
DURHAM, N.C. — Parents of children with special needs often carry a heavy load tending to unique challenges on a daily basis.

The coronavirus pandemic has posed even greater struggles and concerns. Now, with schools reopening in a matter of weeks, local parents of children with special needs are worried about how schools will keep their kids safe.

Kira Parris Moore, a Durham mom to a son on the autism spectrum, has had her life flipped upside down since the start of the pandemic.

Her nine-year-old son Trey is an outdoor enthusiast who has overcome many hurdles.

“For a long time, he was non-verbal. He became only verbal at age six,” said Moore.

Masks, social distancing and new routines could pose major challenges

Adapting to the quarantine life now has been a challenging task for children like Trey who thrive on routine – and can struggle immensely when routines are altered.

Managing his stress and anxiety with therapy and outdoor activities has helped, but she said things like mask wearing and social distancing are complicated to implement.

Some children with autism also struggle with sensory sensitivity, which could make everyday tasks like wearing masks or washing hands more difficult than for neurotypical children.

Social distancing may also be difficult to implement, according to Gregory Harwood, an adult on the autism spectrum.

He said, "People on the autism spectrum often struggle with social interaction and non-verbal communication. They may not understand social guidelines such as how far to stand from somebody else until it is very carefully and explicitly explained to them."

"We also struggle with having inflexible rituals and routines. It can be very, very hard for us to change to new routines," he said.

Issues like these raise concerns as families prepare for the new school year.

“It’s all going to be very new to him," said said. Plus, she added, he will have to readjust to a new routine after being home for so long.

The mother of two knows how to adapt to unique circumstances. It was early-on when Trey was diagnosed.

“Sometimes, especially when things get hard you start to lose hope. You start to wonder, 'Is my child ever going to be independent?'” she said.

She learned how to make changes quickly to meet his needs, even publishing a book inspired by his love of cooking.

“Autism doesn’t have to be the thing to hold him back. In fact, it can enhance his ability to do something really great," she said.

Like many parents right now, they’re figuring out all of the life changes one day at a time.


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