The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered schools and businesses all over the world. Some are already opening with new protocols in place, some have plans to reopen, and others are going to rely on distance learning for a while longer.
Hundreds of schools in Ireland may be able to reopen in July to begin a summer program specifically geared toward children with special needs like autism. The plan is being developed by the government. With more than 10,000 children with special needs in the system, their goal is to help them get back into the routine of school before the rest of their classmates return.
Schools in Ireland have been closed since March 13th. Many parents are praising the initiative to allow their special needs children back to school early, as many of them rely heavily on routines.
This type of program has been done before. In 2018, over 10,000 kids with special needs went to school during the summer as part of the July Education Programme (also called the July provision). The program provided funding for students with autism or significant intellectual disabilities to attend.
Adam Harris, who is the head of an autism nonprofit in Ireland called AsIAm, wrote a letter to the Minister of Education last month stating that allowing kids with autism to return to school early was “essential.”
“There is a particular concern that the longer a pupil is not attending school, the more challenging it will become to re-establish routine, and enable them to resume their studies and self-development,” Harris said.
Children with special needs may have behavioral issues and difficulty readjusting if they resume school in the fall with the rest of their classmates. Not having the predictable routine of school for the past few months has caused some children with autism to meltdown more often, regress, engage in self-harm, have trouble sleeping, and more.
“Our children are the forgotten ones in any road map for the reopening of our country,” said Angelina Hynes, whose daughter, Zoe, has regressed significantly since March.
“These children are the most vulnerable and voiceless group. They thrive on routine and structure. When that isn’t in place they fall apart,” she said.
The Department of Education and the Department of Health are working together on this initiative to find a way to safely allow students to return to school. If the program gets approved, there will be strict protocols in place to help keep kids safe and healthy.
The Department of Education has said that reopening schools is a massive logistical operation that requires careful planning and management. However, they are working to address the unique predicament for students with special needs.
The Minister of the Department of Education, Joe McHugh, said he “is acutely aware that the closure of schools is impacting families with children with complex needs hardest.”
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.