Coronavirus pandemic creating particular challenges for children with special needs

The coronavirus pandemic and remote learning has been hard on all families, but especially those with special needs. 

Nineteen-year-old Jacob Varghese was born with Down Syndrome. He would typically attend Fairfax High School to learn, but now everything is virtual. 

Drumming is his outlet since learning from home can be tough. 

“Virtual school is a bad thing to do because I like to go back to school and get one on one meetings,” said Varghese. 

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Dreams for Kids DC, an organization that provides free programs for people with special needs, helps Varghese push through these difficult times. 

Executive Director Glenda Smith said what families are struggling with the most is isolation and not being able to directly interact with teachers and friends. 

“The social engagement is huge for this population. They need it to realize that they have people who want to help them, they have people who want to be friends with them,” said Smith. 

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Before students can get back into the classroom, a vaccine is needed. Today, Pfizer announced they will file for emergency use in just days. Professor of Global Health of Epidemiology, Dr. Amira Roess, said frontline workers and senior citizens would be prioritized, but people like Jacob could also be at the top of the list. 

“We've just started to see the vaccine being administered to children 12 and older and we are waiting for information about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine in that population,” said Dr. Roess. 

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Saji Varghese, Jacob’s father, is hopeful a vaccine could get students with special needs back in the classroom safely so they no longer have to stare at a screen. 

“The thing is attention span, not every children can have the same level of attention. It makes it hard for parents to have an eye on it when they are working also. That is becoming a challenge,” said Varghese. 

Dreams for Kids DC is inviting families with special needs to join their free virtual clinics. Visit the website for more information

The organization also has free therapists and paraprofessionals on hand for anyone who could benefit from that support.