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The Advantages of Distance Learning For some children with disabilities, there's an upside to virtual school

advantages of distance learning for students with disabilities
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In my house, the sudden advent of distance learning has, of course, been the same shocking pivot as for everyone else I know. I talk to other moms who are fighting to get their kids to start their lessons or to finish their homework. After years of struggling, though, I’m astonished to find that under this new system, my son is now sailing along.

Raising a 2E Child

Eighteen months ago, my son was diagnosed as both gifted and learning disabled (which I hadn’t even known was possible!). Children like mine are known as “twice exceptional” (2Es); their giftedness allows them to compensate for their challenges without even knowing they’re doing it.

Following his diagnosis, I worked closely with both a learning specialist and with his school to figure out what supports and accommodations he needs. When the pandemic hit and his school announced it wouldn’t reopen after spring break, I feared his progress would go out the window.

I am keenly aware that he is fortunate to attend a school with a plan for distance learning. But how would his accommodations, such as preferential seating and redirecting his attention if it drifts, work when he was alone in front of a tablet?

He was concerned too, peppering me with questions the night before “classes” began. Did I think it would be harder than regular school, or easier? Would he get more homework than before or less?

The plan was that teachers would post written and videoed lessons each morning, with virtual “office hours” for questions in the afternoon. So if the lessons weren’t live, he asked me, why did he have to follow the time schedule the school suggested? “Suggesting” wasn’t the same as “requiring,” was it? Knowing that the school would probably have to tweak their approach as they went didn’t reassure either one of us.

The Advantages of Distance Learning

The first morning of school, he popped out of bed early, logging on before even brushing his teeth. I hovered in his doorway, asking how it was going and whether I could help. After he waved me off the third time, I left him to it.

Later that morning, he came to find me, a broad smile on his face. For the first time in his young life, he could set his own learning pace. He didn’t feel behind his peers because he couldn’t see whether they were working faster. Because the teachers posted step-by-step homework instructions, he could refer to them as needed, rather than feeling at sea because he’d missed part of an oral instruction.

As I type this, we’re a month into distance learning. He’s grumbling about missing his friends, but no longer complains about “going to school.” His stress level is way down, and he’s much more eager to do schoolwork than he has ever been.

It’s too soon to tell what lessons he and I will need to take from this. But watching him finally thrive has been, for me, one of the few silver linings of this dismal time.

About Amy L. Freeman

Amy L. Freeman’s bylines include The Washington Post, Parents.com, HuffPost, GoodHousekeeping.com and many others, including the 2018 Writer’s Resist Anthology. She divides her time between freelance writing and serving as Development Director for The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD.

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