Children could not attend online classes for varied reasons.
Devik Bhanushali, 17, was happy with his daily routine: Waking up every morning, going to school, learning new things, coming back, playing video games, solving a Sudoku with his evening tea, and then going to sleep. That was his life for some years now; but two years ago, this routine was disrupted.
When the lockdown was announced in March 2020, all the schools, including schools for children with special needs, were shut and learning was shifted online. Computer or mobile screens became classrooms, and their friends were confined to small rectangular boxes. Something similar happened with Devik, a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Devik hasn’t attended school since June 2020. Since his parents had started working from home in March, he had access to online classes.
Krishna Bhanushali, Devik’s mother said, “Devik’s father and I joined our offices in May and hence there was no device on which he could attend classes.” Autistic children need someone around when they are learning. “When we worked from home, either one of us was always with him…. Since we both joined our offices, he couldn’t learn without the help of an adult around him,” she added.
Devik missed his daily routine. “(I) liked going there (to school) before the deadly coronavirus hit our country. Now I am at home. Mom says schools might open for us in July, so I am waiting. Online classes aren’t fun,” he said.
A study in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) said that changing the routines of people with ASD, especially children, causes major problems. Covid-19 and the shifting of everything online, including education, was a major challenge not only to children with ASD but also to their parents and caregivers.
Nitya S, a teacher and coordinator at Apurva Centre for Autism, Bengaluru, said online classes were a big challenge for kids with autism. “Before the pandemic, we had 60 children coming to our centre. Out of these, only 35 could attend online classes.”
The reasons for the remaining children not attending online classes varied from not having stable Internet connectivity to parents going to the office shared Nitya. “In our centre, we used to involve them in physical activities, but that was restricted in online classes.” Lack of physical activity made them lazy.
But Nitya spoke about the positive aspects of online classes too. “We used to have one-on-one classes with each child that turned out to be really helpful for these kids in their overall growth.”
Some children couldn’t attend online classes. She said that parents of such children used to contact them once in a while and ask for tips.
Deepthi, a student at the centre, said that electricity at her place goes off for too long. So she can’t concentrate on her studies for long. She wants to resume offline classes soon.
Sishir, another student at the centre, said that he cannot sit in front of a screen for long durations.
Dr. Anaita Hegde, a pediatricric neurologist, said, “Autism is a development disorder in which a person has a lack of social and communication skills. They have the age-appropriate motor functions but not enough social skills.”
About the impact of online classes, she said that these children don’t like to sit for long. “A benefit of offline classes is social interaction. They like to have space and run around. They also watch other children and learn. Schools really give sensory inputs.”
Unfortunately, all these were not possible in offline classes. They were reduced to closed spaces. “Both parents and students are exhausted and feel stuck; the children are really struggling,” she added.
Himani Mehta, a child development expert who caters to children with special needs thinks the pandemic has hampered their education. “In schools, you have teacher-student interaction face to face which is the best way. But on screens, a teacher cannot help students beyond a certain point. Additionally, a child with ASD needs a lot of help and attention while learning. Hence, their education is hampered.”
Teachers, parents, and students are waiting for special children’s schools to reopen in June. It would be beneficial for everyone, they say, as it would resume one-on-one interactions.