Mother of special-needs teen says creativity essential to make online classes work

Posted September 25, 2020 7:30 p.m. EDT

— Online classes during the coronavirus pandemic have posed challenges for many students and families, but those with children who have intellectual or developmental disabilities face additional obstacles.

Sixteen-year-old Ethan Pfaltzgraff has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around. His mother said he also is visually impaired and lacks the functional use of his hands.

The pandemic has limited his world to his home, said Jennifer Pfaltzgraff, executive director of The Arc of the Triangle, an organization that supports children and adults who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.

"The challenges we are facing now are that he really can’t leave the house," she said. “We have gone to a few doctor's appointments, but that literally is the only time he’s been in a different building than our home since March."

Creativity has been at the forefront of Pfaltzgraff's mind in helping Ethan with virtual learning.

"Right now, he’s in middle school. They’re studying angles – obtuse, acute and right angles," she said. "I take a book and open it and try to trace his fingers inside the book to sort of show him."

Keeping Ethan safe and healthy is at the top of her priority list, even if that means being out of her comfort zone.

"I am not a teacher, but we will do everything it takes to try to give him the best experience that he can have while we have to be at home and online,“ Pfaltzgraff said.

When the obstacles to happiness may seem insurmountable, she has learned to keep moving forward, taking everything one day at a time.

"To let it go," she said when asked what Ethan teaches her daily. "The fact that he is doing so well and is healthy and happy, he’s been teaching us that for 16 years."

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