This article is part of a series called “Left Behind,” where we highlight how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted a generation of students.
After more than a year of living in isolation, Laura Colnes sees the impact on her son Sammy.
The Marlton, New Jersey resident saw how remote learning took its toll on her 21-year-old son with autism, for what would have been his last year.
Thanks to the New Jersey State Legislature, he can opt for an extra year of education at the Bancroft School. Typically, special needs students in the state have the option of staying in school until age 21.
“It’s like this vicious kind of cycle that he’s in,” she said. “I do think if he’s able to get another year to work on some skills, he’ll benefit.”
Colnes herself teaches reading and writing at DeMasi Middle School full-time. Despite this, she found it challenging to help her son stay focused in class.
“His anxiety levels went up during this whole thing,” he said. “He would hold hands in a death grip right before the computer.”
Colnes feels that without the proper sense of structure in place, the isolation left her son in the dark.
“Even when he was home, it’s not like we could take him anywhere,” she said.
As vaccines shape to rear this pandemic’s end, Colnes hopes hers and other special needs children step outside more.
“At some point, they’re going to have to leave the house again, they’re going to have demands placed on them,” she said. “Then it’s going to be even harder to adjust.”
Her advice for fellow parents of special needs children is to ask for help.
“They have to push through to the schools to get what they need, and ask for help,” she said. “If I could do things differently, one of the things I would have done would be asking for help [when my son was] a lot younger.”