As educators and parents grapple with the uncertainly of schools reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Family & Children’s Services Counseling & Mental Health teams continue to work on-site at schools providing individually tailored services designed to overcome a wide range of emotional, behavioral or relationship problems — from mild to severe.
Faith Crittenden, senior program director of Family & Children’s Services (F&CS) School-Based programs, said the situation is tricky because some area school districts are meeting in person, while others work remotely. F&CS therapists are placed in select schools in the following school districts: Broken Arrow Public Schools Jenks Public Schools, Tulsa Public Schools and Union Public Schools.
“My Union Public Schools team is meeting with some students in person and for others, they do telehealth sessions from the schools,” she said. “They have to figure out when the sessions they conduct fits into the children’s virtual day. In another instance, Tulsa Public Schools is all virtual, so they may sit at another school that’s having in-person classes and do telehealth with all their Tulsa Public Schools clients. It’s a lot – we’re trying to sort out the logistics.”
While it seems that adults are taking the pandemic in stride, Faith said the results aren’t as easy for children. Many aspects of school can be tricky for kids with special needs, but F&CS is willing to help schools ease the transition. For kids with special needs, the idea of heading back to school is both fun and fraught. Keeping up with academics, staying on top of tasks, and managing relationships each offer challenges and opportunities.
Explaining to a child why these measures are necessary without causing fear is also challenging but much more so for children with special needs or learning disabilities especially if they have sensory issues or a difficult time breathing.
“We’re having to be creative and think outside the box,” she said. “For example, we had a recent session with parents and teachers about wearing masks. We were talking a lot about kids that are on the autism spectrum, kids who have struggles with just sensory issues in general, and kids who must wear a mask who are smelling their own recycled breath and the feel of the mask is irritating. So, what do you do for kids that have those limitations or difficulties?”
Faith said solutions offered by parents and teachers include letting the kids chew gum for sensory purposes, putting drops of essential oil on the mouth area of the mask to help with the smell of recycled breath, allowing the child to pick out different textures of cloth to use for the mask, or if parents obtain plain reusable masks – having kids decorate it as a fashionable theme.
“Based on the conversations we’ve had with teachers, the schools are really focused on how we serve these children in this really unique environment,” Faith said. “They are planning on bringing those kids in for one-on-ones by busing them in small groups to keep some semblance of normalcy because they just know that parents who have special needs children, it is hard for them to do focus on their education and to try to work, too.”
Parents who seek such services should pay attention to their intuition and work with educators to find out the best solutions.