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School at Home: Special education

Miguel Octavio
Created: May 20, 2020 10:41 PM

(ABC 6 News) - Change can be hard to process but even more for special needs students who rely on routine to meet their goals.

Teachers say it’s challenging to check student progress when they can’t see them in person. But educators and families aren’t giving up no matter how long the COVID-19 pandemic lasts.

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Sara Seegmiller just got off work but there’s more to do. These days, she spends more time taking care of her son Jesse. 

“On my days off, you’re with him at the computer, so there isn't downtime for me or my mom when she's got him, which is kind of more stressful than we had anticipated,” Seegmiller said. 

Jesse has autism. Sara worries he’s lagging from distance learning.
 
“I don’t want him to be farther behind next year and I think that was my biggest hurdle… He’s more behind than I thought,” Seegmiller said. 

Seegmiller also worries when he’s not ok, she won’t know it. 

"The hard part is he's not going tell me, ‘mom this is stressing me,’” Seegmiller said. “He can’t verbalize that for me.”
  
Meeting the needs of special needs students also keeps Paula Ziems busy. 

Ziems, a special education teacher at Austin High School, helps students on the autism spectrum, and co-teaches several subjects.
 
"It's difficult because you're not face to face, you can't see that light bulb turn on that they get it or you can't see the confusion in their eyes,” Ziems said. "I try to ask questions in an assignment that will really make them stop and think.”

Ziems said their answers give her a better indication of their progress. She has been documenting interactions with families as part of their individualized educations plans or IEPs. 

She also has to be more flexible with her schedule and assignment workload because each family’s situation is different. 

"I will be honest, it's a challenge, it hurts because I want to be here in this building with my students and my colleagues, but I'm determined to make the most of it and determined to come out even stronger because of it,” Ziems said. 
 
Understanding from teachers, along with help from other family members, have helped the Seegmillers transition to distance learning. 

“I’m very proud. He’s done a good job,” Seegmiller said. “It’s been a family affair to get him through.”

School districts and families are working together to make sure special needs students can satisfy their IEPs under federal law. Some families of children with special needs fear they will lose services like speech therapy or counseling amid this pandemic.

But some teachers and parents hope they’ll have a better appreciation for the work they each do to help students succeed.

You will find deeper coverage of this story on www.postbulletin.com and Thursday’s print edition of the Post Bulletin.

Tune in all week for our "School At Home" series on distance learning in partnership with the Post Bulletin. 


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