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At-home learning presents new challenges for children with disabilities

Advice for families of children with disabilities on how to navigate the learning process from home.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — At-home learning can be challenging, especially for families who have students with disabilities.

Candice Shaffer's son Lonny is autistic.

"He cannot speak verbally and he has a lot of ticks (like) flapping," Shaffer said. "He doesn't answer to his name very well, like, if we're out in public, it's kind of difficult to get his attention.... Just several different things that are just complicated to even describe to anyone who's not around him."

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It's a reality that can make learning more difficult, but one that educators are equipped to support. 

Now, as families adjust to online learning due to the coronavirus, it's a new hurdle for many to overcome.

"It is very difficult because a lot of the services that a child receives in special education, teachers have gone to school for a very long time to provide this particular service," Kimberly Tissot, executive director at Able South Carolina, said.

Tissot has worked in special education for nearly 20 years. Her organization provides training and advocacy for people with unique conditions. 

She says teachers can be the first line of defense for families struggling with the transition. 

“Create a plan with the teachers. If you feel like your child... is not getting the services that you need right now, reach out and develop a plan with them," Tissot said.

She added that free services are available through organizations like Family Connection South Carolina and Able South Carolina.

"We're actually working with students virtually right now and assisting them with their school work," Tissot said. "Whatever is being provided in the school, before the schools closed, any kind of accommodation, those accommodations are also supposed to be provided virtually as well."

Shaffer says virtual learning changed her son Lonny's life.

He has been taking online learning classes with the South Carolina Virtual Charter School for about a year. After seeing progress, she hopes her story can offer a ray of hope for new at-home learners.

"He can do math by himself. The teachers break everything down for his comprehension level to understand," Shaffer said. "He's back up to a third, fourth grade level from a kindergarten level and it just changed our lives."

His teacher Brittany Hamrick offered this word of advice. 

"There is no child who cannot learn," Hamrick said. "There are going to be days that are very difficult and very trying, but what's important is that you're seeing baby steps."

For more resources to assist with educating students with disabilities visit the state Department of Education online.