Parents, children and emerging tech: The trifecta of education for children with special needs during pandemic | #specialneeds | #kids

It has been seven months and counting that billions across the world have been quarantined at home. Life as we knew it has changed drastically and the most tangible transformation has taken place for the education sector. With schools and colleges shut, students and teachers had to turn to digital means overnight. While the initial few months of the lockdown have been difficult for everyone involved in this transition phase, a section of students found relegated to the periphery. These were children with special needs. During the formative years of a special needs child, there is an urgent need for routine and discipline to help with their emotional and psychological development. This is a challenging task and more so with nationwide lockdowns and suspension of schools as there has been a need to adopt different strategies at home to help cope with the way children spend their days, in a short time span.

COVID-19’s impact on children with special needs

While for some the transition to online education and classes has been convenient, little has been said about the pandemic’s enormous impact on the emotional and physiological development of special needs children. For such children, small changes have to be brought about slowly and so it is reasonable to assume that huge adjustments in daily routines prove to be a very real struggle for them as well as their parents. With the closure of schools, quarantine, and social distancing norms becoming the new normal, the holistic development of children with pre-existing developmental conditions is at risk.

During the temporary closure of therapy centres there has been a rise in anxiety for many, especially children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In the current situation, the development of social skills and social interactions is only possible with the coordinated efforts of both parents and therapists through online home therapy sessions. However, with the disruption to their daily routine and practically no outdoor activity, children with ASD feel a sense of uncertainty which further fuels their mood swings, anxiety and restlessness.

Stress levels running at an all-time high

The pandemic has brought a lot of uncertainty and stress into our lives. With everyone restricted to their homes, unable to meet their friends, or unable to go to work normally, stress levels are running at an all-time high all over the world. Parents with young children have seen a doubling of responsibility as they have to juggle working from home and taking care of their children throughout the day. This can be extremely stressful as parents too are experiencing negative emotions, mood swings and changes in sleeping patterns during these times.

These lifestyle changes can also put children with special needs at a greater risk of relapse and/or exacerbate their condition thus making a system for online psychological interventions the need of the hour. Parents need to be in a position to effectively manage their own stress and also ensure that a structured daily routine for activities and tasks is maintained for their child. They also need to ensure the presence of a healthy and enabling environment for their child throughout the day and to monitor behaviours such as spending excessive time in front of the television.

Harnessing tech for home therapy is changing the paradigm

Digital technology is redefining our world in many ways during these times, but perhaps the most important change is how it’s driving inclusivity for previously marginalised groups. In general, parenting is a mammoth task, even more so during the times of a pandemic and this task becomes increasingly challenging for parents with special needs children. The biggest challenge such parents face is a lack of awareness and knowledge which can be reversed with the appropriate kind of support. At Mom’s Belief research has shown that parents can be trained to facilitate the holistic development of their children and help them rise above the challenges of their condition.

A parent-led skill development intervention can deliver long-lasting results that can be pushed further with digital technology platforms utilised intelligently for such interventions. Parents can be educated, through well documented parent-training programs, to serve as co-therapists and tutors for their children who have special needs. If we are to unleash the full power of innovation in the years ahead, it will surely help embed an impression in people’s lives with a promise to make it better.

Nitin Bindlish is the Founder and CEO of Mom’s Belief. The views expressed are personal

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