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The difficulties of children with special educational needs during the pandemic

The pandemic has been with us since March 2020, leaving behind great consequences and situations to which we have had to forcibly adapt. The physical and mental health has been seriously affected, which is why we are now treating quite worrying cases in consultation: serious problems of anxiety and depression, and specific and generalized phobias, which incapacitate and affect people’s quality of life.

And what about the great heroes of this story? Our little ones and young people have seen that, suddenly, parks, libraries, classrooms and relationship circles have closed, without knowing if they would open and function as they did before.

Their houses and living rooms have become work offices for their mothers and fathers, they have lived classrooms with new ratios, blankets that have accompanied them in class next to those open windows due to ventilation, reorganization of schedules; pediatricians, doctors and teachers framed in a webcam or call; and mask as one more garment of your day to day.

In children and young people with special educational needs, specialists have had to reorganize and stretch our resources and attention to the maximum to respond to the problems we have encountered.

Miriam Sánchez-Hermosilla, psychologist

In the case of children and young people with Special educational needs, Like the autism spectrum disorders, Attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, behavior, development and learning problems, specialists have had to reorganize and stretch our resources and attention to the maximum to respond to the problems we have encountered.

While we have all reinvented ourselves with new ways of working, teaching and learning, we have not prioritized everything we should to people with functional diversity. Thus, people with phobia or social avoidance have seen their behavior reinforced, by increasing the time spent in their safe spaces and doing more avoidance social behaviors. We also observe serious sleeping problems, emotional, behavioral, coexistence and learning.

In addition, the implementation of the telecommuting in fathers and mothers the family routine has changed. At present, many companies have returned to incorporate presence in the positions, so this has meant a new change in the situation, with a phobia of separation by parents.

Far from the old normal

Adapting to the conditions of the new normal It has caused difficulties for all people, but especially for children of developing age, since the way of learning and perceiving the world has been conditioned.

What’s more, their established life cycles have been altered, which can affect many aspects of their lives, whether on an emotional, physiological, cognitive and behavioral scale, such as sleep problems and feeding, anxiety and sadness or behavior problems.

On the other hand, it is necessary to take into account the repercussion that the different systems that surround the little ones have, such as school or family, which becomes the main focus of information in ambiguous situations such as the one we live in, and the way of getting the message across is especially important.

Children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, have more difficulty learning because their focus of attention is located in the mouth, so the use of a mask makes communication and interpretation difficult

These consequences are primarily seen in children with special educational needs, for whom the new way of receiving classes may not have been sufficient to achieve the expected performance, especially if they have learning difficulties.

Other aspects such as the use of masks, which make it difficult to nonverbal language and understanding emotions: by reducing social contact, people are prevented from expressing with all facial features and not just with their eyes.

As a consequence, learning facial expressions associated with emotions is difficult, since the entire face is required to be able to observe the emotion expressed in its entirety. Children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, have even more difficulty because their focus of attention is located in the mouth, so the use of a mask makes communication and interpretation difficult.

And, of course, we cannot forget the difficulty of combining telework and family life in the parents, with a great repercussion and influence on the increased time spent by boys and girls in front of screens, and that has consequences on their level of care and self-regulation.

Has changed their way of relating

From birth, boys and girls begin to form neural connections based on the actions that they consolidate as a result of experience and contact. For this reason, the neuropsychological development of the youngest has been hampered by the change in the situation that society has suffered.

Specifically, some children with functional diversity may take longer to take root in the different learning focused on adaptation to the environment, so this exceptional situation has changed their way of relating.

The difficulty of combining telework and family life in parents has had an impact on the increase in the time boys and girls spend in front of screens, which has consequences on their level of attention and self-regulation

At the curricular level, children have seen a modification in their school routine by switching to the blended or virtual format in attending classes, or reorganizing their classrooms and schedules.

In those with little flexibility in the face of changes, this is an important harmful point in their attentional, sensory, emotional and social regulation, which affects their state of health, emotional and academic performance.

Of course, the adaptation to this new reality has meant that, in both children and adults, the adjustment and creation of new neural connections has been promoted and, therefore, the neuroplasticity of our brain. If we join forces to recover and mitigate all these effects, a positive resilience can be generated.

Miriam Sánchez-Hermosilla Villarejo She is a psychologist and director of Psicoeduk, a center specialized in psychoeducational work with children and adolescents. With the support of Ana Bena Martin Y Loli Molina Martinez, students in neuropsychology internships at the Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC).

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