Parent, NY legislator call for alternatives to online learning for students with developmental disabilities

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COLONIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The transition to remote learning has been challenging for many students, but it’s been especially difficult for those with developmental disabilities.

Lacey Lautenschlager is one of many local parents calling for change.

“Our main concern, I feel, is regression. We’re very worried about all of the skills our kids have worked so hard to gain. My daughter gets occupational therapy, speech therapy, vision therapy, physical therapy, and when she’s not getting those services, she’s regressing,” said Lautenschlager. 

Her 11-year-old daughter, Emily, is living with Down Syndrome. Her 14-year-old son, Aiden, is on the autism spectrum. She told NEWS10 ABC that while online learning may be working for some students, it’s not a one size fits all solution.

She said those with special needs are struggling to grasp the concept and engage in the lessons. She said these are students who are used to having individualized instruction and supervision. She added that these students are not only regressing academically, but socially and behaviorally as well. 

Lautenschlager said, as a parent, she is struggling, too.

“I’m trying to work, my husband has been working from home at the same time and we’ve got our two kids, both of which require extra attention and time and it is not easy to fit that in,” said Lautenschlager.

She pointed out that many parents may not even have the option to be working from home if they are essential, further complicating the situation.

Lautenschlager said while she’s grateful to have support and guidance from her daughter’s teachers and aids regarding therapy and instruction, she said it’s just not the same when she does it.

“You really do need a professional that is trained specifically to do those therapies and work on those skills,” said Lautenschlager.

Emily’s teachers have stopped by her house to celebrate her birthday and visit from afar, but not for instruction, as they have not been given the go-ahead to do so. Lautenschlager said she’s incredibly appreciative that they are making the effort to maintain that relationship and recognizes that it is not the case in all districts.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara is the Chair of the Assembly’s sub-Committee on Autism Spectrum Disorders. His son, Michael, is living with autism and he said this has been a challenge for his family, too.

“We have to ensure that these students with disabilities are not left out,” said Santabarbara. 

Santabarbara told NEWS10 he has written a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo both as a legislator, but also as a parent, calling for some flexibility and alternatives now that they have also extended the online curriculum for the summer school programs.

He’s suggesting in-person instruction with a limited amount of students and staff using the proper protective gear. He said this could be done at home or in an alternate setting on a rotating schedule. He said certain therapies and instruction for these students are not doable through a computer.

“There is a way to deliver this instruction safely — maybe on a limited basis with social distancing protocols to the extent possible. Ya know, there have been a lot of executive orders, a lot of things [the Governor’s] done through [the pandemic]. This is something that he has not done, yet, and the time to do it is now,” said Santabarbara. 

He’s also concerned about the students who are in their final year about to age out. He said they will not have the opportunity to revisit or recap any lessons they’ve missed.

Both Lautenschlager and Santabarbara said the Governor needs to address this issue and find an alternative as these students are entitled to a fair education by law.

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