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Many children with special needs are struggling to return to school, with parents turning to home education post-Covid-19 lockdowns.
Associate Professor of Autism and Inclusive Education at the University of Wollongong, Amanda Webster said home education for children with special needs was becoming more popular.
“There’s a growing issue in the country of students on the autism spectrum being in distance education,” Dr Webster said.
Research by My Homeschool Australia showed, overall, homeschool enrolments increased by 18 per cent Australia wide in 2020.
“I’ve talked to several parents who couldn’t get their kids to go back to school,” Dr Webster said.
Changes in routines between 2020 and 2021 resulted in 68 per cent of children with special needs experiencing stress-related concerns, a recent study found.
The research by the Australian Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists also revealed that many parents reported a loss of institutional support during the pandemic.
Teacher’s aide at a primary school for autistic children, Fiona Smith* said interest in home teaching had continued in 2021, with parents reluctant to go through major disruption again.
“We have had quite a few parents enquire about homeschooling options,” she said.
Dr Webster said the ability to study in a calmer, more familiar environment had left many children with special needs not wishing to disrupt their routine yet again and return to school.
“Many kids have found it more preferable to be at home,” she said.
“Often for them, it’s a much nicer environment … there’s a number of students who embraced it.”
Senior Research Fellow from Swinburne University’s Centre for Mental Health Dr Eric Tan said the coronavirus restrictions and schooling rules in place for those with special needs were often confusing.
“They seemed to have fallen through the cracks,” he said.
“There was a lot of fine details that seemed to be missing.”
Dr Webster said if a lockdown were to happen again the impacts of those with disabilities should be considered.
“When the government was taking steps, they didn’t actually consult people with disabilities,” she said.
Having a child with special needs continues to be one of the top four reasons parents decide to educate at home.
“It’s not out of choice, it’s mostly out of ‘I don’t know what else to do’. Covid took that a step further,” Dr Webster said.
*Name changed on request.