The struggle to accommodate children with IEPs and 504s

We want to hear from you! Please share your experiences in this Distance Learning Survey for All Parents so we can learn from and support each other.

Distance Learning for children with unique learning needs

It’s been a hard twelve weeks. I’m not sure who is more ready for summer: kids or parents. While it’s not going to be a “normal” summer, we will hopefully still find some reprieve. Those of us raising children with special needs arguably need this break even more profoundly.  

I have two children. My seven-year-old is what you’d call neurotypical. He thinks and behaves in a way that is typical, or expected. Distance learning has been hard for him. He’s in first grade, so it’s a pivotal learning year, especially in regards to reading. He loves his teacher and misses his friends. Online learning is working, though. It’s not ideal by any means, but he’s coping.

When the supports are gone

Online distance learning isn’t working for my other son. He’s nine, and he has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for autism. He’s had one since he started preschool. His IEP includes specific supports for social skills, including help with the pragmatics of language and impulse control. Since he’s not in school, he can’t practice any of his social skills with peers, and his interactive goals, which require observation, cannot be measured.

My nine-year-old with autism can’t do Zoom meetings. It’s too abstract for him. He sees the images of his teachers and peers, but he doesn’t feel connected. Instead, he feels infuriated. He perceives his teachers’ inabilities to call on him frequently as a lack of care. He’s sensory-seeking. He craves kinesthetic interplay between himself, his peers, and his teachers. Because he’s not getting the input he needs, he gets his sensory needs in other ways: banging his head on the table, moaning, crying, and pulling his hair.  

He had to stop attending his weekly social skills group outside of school for the same reasons. It was causing more harm than good, creating a stressful environment for himself and his peers in the group.

All of my son’s school and therapy supports are gone. It’s heartbreaking.

Preparing for kindergarten

We’re not the only family struggling. Local parent Tejal has a five-year-old son who also has autism. Before the quarantine, her son’s schedule consisted of going to preschool in the mornings and attending ABA therapy on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. Social development, accepting others’ ideas, eye contact, and having 2-way conversations are integral to his goals. His schedule, like everyone else’s, has been nonexistent since March 12th.

Tejal shares, “Zoom meetings are hard for my son. Sitting still is a challenge. Staring at a computer for more than 10-15 minutes is just not always feasible. It’s extremely stressful for me to get him to regroup. Ann Arbor Public Schools sends ideas for learning through the SeeSaw app, but their effectiveness has been hit or miss.”

Her son can do Occupational Therapy virtually, but Tejal has to help facilitate the session to keep her son focused, which requires a tremendous amount of prep and patience.

While she remains hopeful for her son, she’s also genuinely worried. “My son is supposed to start kindergarten this fall. We have no idea what to expect, but virtual learning is something I am dreading.” Tejal is still awaiting her son’s first IEP meeting. It was supposed to be in April.

Preparing for graduation


While Tejal worries about her son entering public education this fall, Lara worries about her son, who is slated to graduate in June from Skyline. 

He has a 504 Plan for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). For a visual learner whose accommodations include daily check-ins with a trusted adult, extended time, and frequent breaks, suddenly being expected to learn on his own has been a challenge. 

Lara explains that the biggest issue has been “the lack of tangibility. There’s this concept of assignments, but that’s literally all it is. There’s this hypothetical idea of a classroom, but it’s virtual.” 

Adding to the stress is the fact that Skyline is on trimesters. The first day of the third trimester was the first day of distance learning. For her son, this meant having all new teachers. They never got the chance to make an in-person connection, adding to the disconnect.

Lara doesn’t blame anyone for the situation her son is in. She shares that his teachers have been supportive, but explains that “for a young person who has an invisible brain difference, it’s been hard to make these constant switches.” 

Lara explains that he’s almost “too high-functioning” in the sense that “people don’t realize how much energy it takes him to concentrate and do his work. He doesn’t like to be a burden to others, so he often won’t advocate for himself.” Without peers and the physical environment of the classroom, self-advocacy and the ability to focus become that much harder.  

And while her son should be celebrating his acceptance into Michigan State this fall, instead, there’s this looming dread of what online learning will be like as a college student.

Building a support network

I’m worried about the fall too. I’m concerned about all of our kids, but especially those with unique learning needs, the ones who need IEPs and 504s to ensure their needs are met so they can find success in the classroom.

For now, the best way to cope with this worry is to lean on each other. How are you holding up? We want to hear from you! Please share your experiences in this Distance Learning Survey for All Parents so we can learn from and support each other.

Be safe, and be well!

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