The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed our lives. We are passing a critical period as every day the number of people infected with the coronavirus is rising rapidly. Probably the Covid-19 virus isn't going away soon. In our country, children with special needs are often neglected and considered backward by the society. Thus, they are suffering the most at this time. We have to be more careful towards the children with special needs during this time. In the western countries, different types of services are provided to children with special needs, particularly as they can also continue education in the mainstream. Such a significant change in our country is yet to be seen.
In Bangladesh, children with special needs are facing crucial situations to adjust right now, especially the children with autism are facing the worst situation. Autistic students have problems in adapting to anything new. Most children are suddenly detached from everything for Covid-19. The behaviour of autistic children have problems of aggressiveness, hyperactivity, disruptive and inadequate sleep issues, and these are increasing day by day. The parents of a child with autism are having a miserable time, as they often become frustrated and disoriented. In this situation, the parents are usually worried about what they should do for their children to have a normal life. There are various behavioural, socio-developmental problems in children with autism during Covid -19.Kinds of inertia may happen in the speech of children with Down syndrome. So they need speech therapy. Children with cerebral palsy require a physiotherapist. They have been confined at home since March, 2020. So, children with special needs develop a tendency to become restless, angry and eager to go out. The comfortable life of children with special needs depends on the support activities of a doctor, therapist and special school. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the child's treatment at these places is greatly hindered, which can increase their mental instability.
Some virtual support in the same way when they used to visit their doctors and therapists, may help reduce their anxiety. Maximum children with special needs are unable to get services from speech therapists and physiotherapists. Whereas in our country there is no noticeable service even in normal times, therefore it is beyond imagination to receive services in the pandemic period.
Many school teachers don’t take much information about their students from the parents. Maximum schools are not helping in giving any guidelines. It is a common sight in a developing country like Bangladesh. Most of the time, students with special needs quickly forget what they are taught in schools specially students with Learning Disability.
The progress that was achieved before has been disrupted due to Corona, which is a new challenge for the children, parents and teachers. So in this case the parents have to help the children practice these things again and again. In Covid-19 situations many children with special needs do not attend online classes which has become a bigger problem. Some schools are taking classes 1 to 3 days a week. Some children are happy to attend online classes. But maximum students are not comfortable to attend the class. Ordinary children are having a hard time adapting to the online education system. The special children, their parents and teachers have a little more trouble getting used to this activity. Some parents are not expert at online and may be suffering from different kinds of maladies. Some children may lose access to the support network, leaving them vulnerable and isolated.
Parents who have children with special needs face even greater stress without adequate support. Some parents may be suffering from economic problems. They need mental as well as financial support. But when everyone is fighting for survival in this corona from their own places, it is impossible to depend on someone else. For the good of their child, parents should contact the teachers and experienced people. Parents should find out how to stay in touch with children’s teachers or school, to stay informed, ask questions and get more guidance. Parent groups or community groups can also be a good way to support each other with home schooling. So, we shouldn’t only depend on our regular services, government and non- government organisations, because we are all trying to survive in this critical situation.
Some children with special needs and young people with disabilities may be feeling more isolated, anxious and bored. They may feel fear or grief. Parents should talk to their children and other family members about Covid-19. Choose a safe, comfortable place and time to openly discuss the reason for the changes to their lives. Social narratives, which draw on text and pictures to talk about situations and responses, can be a useful tool. Encourage children to ask questions and express their feelings with parents or caregivers. Because they are totally detached from everything, they need love and care. So, parents must be confident and have a strong mind. They have to work together, sharing their problems with each other. A helpful mentality can be a big support for all parents in this.Parents should take breaks so that they can rest and refresh their mind and body. They are the best gift and special part of any challenged person. So, they should take time to gather their mental reserves. Parents can use these difficult times in different ways, requiring parental creativity and friendly attitude. Because parents are the best teachers, they can now teach new things to their children to develop their skills. Children will enjoy more with their parents, getting different types of reinforcement or praise as they learn something new.
Parents should make an ideal routine for their children to help maintain a balanced life. Try to establish a routine that is age-appropriate. Although establishing a routine and structure is critically important for children and young people, the routine should be flexible. Parents should also introduce children to creative contents. At the same time, they need to increase the indoor activities a little more. For those children who like to listen to songs, draw pictures, dance, sing and swim should continue these activities. Sometimes children can work with their family members. At the end of each work they should be rewarded or praised by their family members. This strategy will help to increase interest in their work.
Above all, parents and children should stay healthy. Even though schedules fall off, prioritise getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals and staying active. These fundamentals will reduce stress and improve everyone's state of mind. They need special attention to their diet. It is very important to include nutritious food and plenty of water and liquid, with vitamin C in their diet to increase immunity.
None of us know what awaits us tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be more difficult. So we have to be ready to fight against it together. It is impossible to move forward by ignoring any group of our society. So, everyone needs to have a more generous attitude and helpful mind for the special needs person or child. Special children and their parents are going through challenging times, so they need to be supported by others. Parents must be more responsible, conscious and have the mentality to help others as well.
Tonni Aktar and Kaniz Fatema, students of University of Dhaka and the National University respectively