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Remote learning presents unique challenges for special needs students and their parents

Families are concerned about students meeting their educational goals and whether districts are doing everything they can to meet students' needs.

SYLVANIA, Ohio — Many parents are finding remote learning tough to navigate during the pandemic.

But imagine being a parent to a special needs student who needs to meet specialists in person or who has trouble focusing in virtual classes.

Katelyn Merzke is one of thousands of parents trying to help her special needs sons grow up into educated, well-adjusted adults.

Her two sons, Nick and Sam, are both on the autism spectrum, and Sam also struggles with ADHD.

In a story familiar to many special needs parents, Merzke found it almost impossible to keep her sons focused and finishing tasks with virtual learning.

Even patient moms have their limits.

"Yeah it wasn't pretty. I probably yelled and screamed a bit more than they would have liked," said Merzke.

She’s wondering now how she'll navigate a potential return to remote learning.

Families are asking how their special needs students will meet education goals, and whether they'll regress with remote learning, especially since many students need physical touch in therapies that obviously can't happen via video.

Recently, Merzke graduated as an occupational therapy assistant (OTA).

But Merzke points out, not every parent has the time nor ability to help their child.

"My youngest is still also receiving occupational therapy services, so we switched virtually. Not every parent has the ability to sit there and be the child's… so he has an OTA,” said Merzke. “I know what she's trying to do with him because I've been trained in it."

A trickier question is whether districts are doing everything they can to meet special education needs during the pandemic.

Many families are filing lawsuits against districts, including in Hawaii and New York to name a few.

But Sara Heldmann, a coordinator with The Ability Center, points out that providing special education is the law.

"The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that children with disabilities receive services,” said Heldmann. “It's law that they would receive their services. It might just look a little different this school year."

Heldmann isn't the only one encouraging parents to trust the process.

"We're all in this together, and I think if I could give one bit of advice to parents everywhere, it's just have a little patience. We're all frustrated. We're all tired. We all wish our kids could be in person, in school,” said Merzke.

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