At the beginning of the pandemic, children with cognitive disabilities received little attention. The challenges are enormous.
BERLIN taz | At first, Ciwan didn’t understand why everyone wore a mask, says Berin Binici. “Now I can see that he misses school. Especially his class team. ”Binici is the mother of two children. Her younger son Ciwan is eight years old and has autism. Usually he visits a support center for physical, motor and mental development in Kiel.
In the pandemic, Binici, who works in the hospital, and her husband take turns looking after the children at home. During a phone call you can hear Ciwan calling in the background, Binici changes rooms in the two and a half room apartment. “Sometimes he’s really upset right now, like being thrown through a washing machine,” says the 42-year-old mother.
Social isolation, digital teaching, parental care – in the course of the corona pandemic, these topics were discussed a lot and controversially, but initially little consideration was given to children with cognitive impairments. They and their families are facing additional challenges in the pandemic: Not all children can follow digital lessons, social isolation can lead to a significant step backwards in learning and caring for children with cognitive disabilities can be particularly challenging for parents.
The back and forth between school closing and temporary opening confuses her son, Binici says. “While my older son is mostly lazy in lockdown, the change of day makes Ciwan very nervous. He’s very busy at home. ”The constant care for their children brought the parents to the limit at times.
Symptom of dealing with people with disabilities
Children at special schools were forgotten at the beginning of the pandemic, criticizes Ilka Hoffmann, board member of the Education and Science Union (GEW). This is a symptom of how people with disabilities are dealt with in society – regardless of the pandemic: “Responsibility is delegated to the special facilities. The people who work there take care of those affected and the rest of society has nothing to do with it. “
Those who are removed from everyday life are quickly forgotten. “For the special school teachers, the children were of course visible, but they were lost,” said the union.
“Our children simply do not exist in the perception of the ministry,” says the chairwoman of the GEW special education group in Schleswig-Holstein, Kerstin Quellmann. It is still often not clear whether the corona regulations announced for schools also apply to special needs schools. “The school administrators can happily interpret it themselves and are left completely alone with this responsibility,” she criticizes.
Quellmann, who is also the teacher at Ciwan, considers the home office to be simply impossible for parents of children with cognitive disabilities: “In my class, I don’t know a single student where the parents can do something other than looking after their child at the same time . “
Individual learning packages for every child
In Kiel, Kerstin Quellmann and her colleagues have therefore been trying since the beginning of the pandemic to make the situation easier for their students and their parents by providing packages with teaching materials. This includes: modeling clay, handicraft instructions, recipes and worksheets for learning to read and write. Depending on what corresponds to the development of the children. In the first lockdown, Quellmann personally brought the parcels to the children’s home, “to at least see them for a moment,” says the teacher.
Now many families don’t want her to come over for fear of an infection. The special needs school is therefore increasingly relying on digital offers: every morning at 8:45 a.m., the Quellmann’s class meets for a video conference. The team of teachers tries to replace the lack of social exchange.
“It’s really nice when one of the children comes to the video conference who isn’t there that often,” says Quellmann. “It’s always a huge joy for the whole class.” However, some children can only participate to a limited extent. Ciwan walk through the picture every now and then during the video conference and also notice the other children. The meetings on the screen are too abstract for him to participate properly. Without personal contact, it is difficult to keep in touch with children with cognitive disabilities, says Quellmann.
A child in her class only comes to the conference if the part-time mother is at home. She is particularly worried about another of her students. He seems very tense in the online meetings, in the background you can hear the screaming of the siblings. Some parents, on the other hand, did not dare to use video conferencing as a medium. “It now depends on the parents’ homes even more than before the pandemic, the gap is widening,” she says.
Existing problems intensify
Bernd Klagge from Bonn also describes the fact that parents of children at special schools are particularly challenged in the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the IT specialist and father of a son with Down’s syndrome has seen a clear development in the digital competence of teachers at special needs schools. He also praised the provision of teaching material. However, “the commitment of the parents is required, because our son cannot do his learning tasks without assistance,” explains Klagge.
Corona intensifies existing problems at special schools for children with cognitive disabilities. Due to a lack of teachers, Klagge and the state parents of the special needs schools with a focus on intellectual development in North Rhine-Westphalia complain about a significant loss of lessons. A survey initiated by parents at 39 special needs schools in North Rhine-Westphalia with a focus on intellectual development showed that four to five hours of lessons per week had been canceled since the summer holidays – and that before the lockdown.
The students The range of special education classes is aimed at children with increased needs, for example because of cognitive or physical disabilities or learning difficulties.Country matter Depending on the federal state, there are different names for special schools as well as different types of special schools. Their focus can be: promoting learning, seeing, hearing, language, physical and motor development, mental, social and emotional development.
In December, parents published an open letter to the NRW Minister of Education, Yvonne Gebauer (FDP), to point out the dramatic loss of classes at special schools. In the letter, the parents demand an improvement in the staffing situation at special schools for children with disabilities and the possibility that children who are entitled to integration assistance can be supported by them with learning at home.
The extent to which the school attendants, who otherwise help the children individually with the tasks at school, also work in the private sector is currently regulated differently depending on the federal state due to hygiene regulations. The answer from Minister Gebauer announced to the parents has not yet been received. At least there are online meetings initiated by the ministry with representatives of different parent associations, reports Klagge.
Storage instead of educational support
The father is happy that pupils at special schools, regardless of age, are entitled to childcare while the school is currently closed. Depending on the staff situation at the schools, however, this is more of a storage to relieve the parents than educational support, says Klagge. “Our concern is of course that our children learn something.”
In a position paper, Lebenshilfe also emphasizes that children and young people with disabilities have the unrestricted right to education and support even during the pandemic. Pupils and their relatives should receive the necessary support for alternative teaching formats.
“Ultimately, you have to take money and resources into your own hands to solve such problems,” says Bernd Klagge. Education costs something and organizational shifting back and forth doesn’t bring any solutions. Ilka Hoffmann from the GEW joins these demands. The funds from the digital pact would have to be adapted to the special needs of learners with disabilities. In addition, all schools would need additional staff in order to provide all children and young people in the pandemic with educational opportunities.
“Creativity is required here,” says Hoffmann, “the short-term additional involvement of volunteers, students and freelancers on a fee basis could also be considered, for example.” Educational justice must mean keeping an eye on all children. Hoffmann therefore advocates more inclusion in mainstream schools, which in turn should offer more space for children in their diversity and with their different needs: “Only a well-equipped inclusive school system is crisis-proof.”
No criticism of the corona restrictions
None of the interviewees doubts that the contact restrictions are also important and necessary in special schools for coping with the pandemic. However, union member Quellmann lacks transparency about the infection situation in schools. In their opinion, the hygienic equipment for the teaching staff is inadequate. So far you have received two FFP2 masks. For their daily use in emergency care with children, some of whom cannot wear a mask for health reasons, this is insufficient.
Due to the social contact restrictions, there are also many points that have a particularly negative effect on children in special needs schools: “The pandemic reduces the already few contacts between children with intellectual disabilities,” says Bernd Klagge. “As a result, they take dramatic setbacks in development.” This is also evident in motor development, according to teacher Quellmann. She speaks of stunted muscles and unlearned movement sequences after the school closings last year. “We had to do a lot of construction work, and that will probably await us again now.”
Ciwan’s mother also knows that after the pandemic it will again be some time before her autistic son will contact the other children in his class again. That would have just started slowly before Corona. Nevertheless, Berin Binici also observed a positive change in the lockdown: “Ciwan speaks to us a lot more than before. Because people are talking more at home too. “