Students with disabilities continue to face challenges with virtual learning

There are approximately 12,000 students in Maryland public schools who have a disability, whether it be a learning difference or a physical disability. For students with fictional needs, virtual learning is particularly difficult.

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There is a push to get those students back in the classroom.

Emily Wyndam is a beautiful little girl, with a debilitating disease called Rhett Syndrome.

“It’s basically like a disconnect between the brain and the rest of the body,” Emily’s father, Adam Wyndam said. “She’s non-verbal, non-ambulatory. She can’t walk independently, she has a breathing issue. That’s very common with Rhett.”

Emily is a public school student in Anne Arundel County. Her father believes she benefits tremendously from mainstream, in-person education.

“She does enjoy being around other students, and then you have the full staff there. You know, you have your special educator, she has her aid to help her, they have the therapist and all the other aids in the classroom, and so it really takes a multi-disciplinary team to provide for her. One person can’t replace that in the home,” Wyndam said.

“I would love to get them in as soon as possible,” Catonsville High School counselor Brian Stewart said.

Stewart agrees that students, whether they have a physical disability or a learning difference, especially benefit from in-person learning. The accommodations they receive in the classroom don’t always translate online.

“They’re implemented differently than they would be in the regular classroom and that’s a challenge for the kids and the teachers,” Stewart said.

High school senior Matt Lauer doesn’t like online learning. He is dyslexic and says for kids like him, learning over a computer is particularly difficult.

“We like being in with the teachers, advocating for ourselves, asking questions straight away. Like with me, I have trouble with reading some stuff, so it’s kind of hard for me online. They want us to read so-and-so many pages, and I’ll be like halfway through and everyone else is done, and I’m like, ‘I didn’t finish yet,’” Lauer said.

Lauer has learned to speak up and that, says his counselor, is key.

“They’re not in the classroom for teachers to monitor them. As a counselor, a lot of my job is non-verbal and so it’s a lot more difficult to do some of these things, especially to pick up on those subtle clues in a Google Meet, so it’s even more important for kids to speak up,” Stewart said.

Wyndam is the one who must speak for his daughter. He started a petition to get special needs students back in the classroom now. It has tens of thousands of signatures from people all over the country.

For Emily, as time passes, hope for progress fades.

“Regression for Rhett Syndrome children is often permanent. So, the skills we have gained, if we lose those, are gone for good,” Wyndam said. “Her specialist in New York said if she is going to walk independently, it’s going to happen when she’s 5-years-old. She just turned 5-years-old.


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