One year later: COVID-19 challenges for families of children with special needs

It’s August of 2020, Dayna Harris is 6 years old. Dayna is a child with autism. She’s a twin. Her sister is fully verbal but Dayna is nonverbal.

According to her mom and dad, Jill and Randy, Dayna is more like a 2-year-old.

Her dad says, "She’s like a switch. She can be giggling one moment and mad" the next.

Now, seven months later, Dayna has been attending special needs classes. According to Jill, things are better because she’s in school full time.

But, it’s been a mixed bag of emotions and moodiness. She was into biting and self-harm. Jill says the school helped.

Ivor Weiner with the Cal State Northridge Family Focus Resource Center says things have improved. He says there are many silver linings.

Back in August, he told us there were many children like Dayna, who were regressing with distance learning. Weiner says there have been improvements during the past year.

To him, "Districts have done a good job pivoting. Technology use by teachers and creativity is up. Family-teacher relationships are strengthened."

Harris agrees with all of that but says there has been a toll of dealing with months of anguish. At times, she cries.

She says, "it just gets so frustrating like I feel like I just want to burst."

In August, Ivor Weiner told us about a 2013 study showing that mothers with children who deal with autism and disabilities have stress levels that are equal to returning combat veterans. Mix in COVID-19 and it’s not all over yet.

Looking ahead, Weiner says, "I think schools are going to have to be very responsive to children’s special needs in the sense that they will have to look at not only academic remediation but also the social-emotional aspect of mental health. And, schools are basically understaffed when it comes to that."

For the Harris family, it has been a year filled with many challenges.

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