Some Saskatchewan parents of children with autism have had to make adjustments to their back-to-school plans because of support issues and COVID-19 uncertainty.
Ita Rosita has a five-year-old son who was set to start kindergarten at Lakeview School in Regina this year. She is keeping him home, for now.
He was supposed to be in the school's Functionally Integrated Academic Program (FIAP) program, which is a smaller classroom with more teachers and more support. He is non-verbal, doesn't follow instructions well and struggles with sensory issues which means he would find it hard to wear a mask all day, Rosita said.
She contacted her son's teacher before school to talk about what the classroom would look like and what measures would be taken, but she said the teacher couldn't guarantee physical distancing at all times.
That, along with her own health concerns, led she and her husband to keep their son home while they monitor the situation. They have signed up for some e-learning.
"My husband and I feel like it's not enough of a reassurance for us," she said.
Rosita said her son had taken some pre-kindergarten and enjoyed it.
"He started to let other kids into his personal space which didn't happen before," she said.
The loss of that socialization has led her son to regress, she said.
Rosita has relatives in Indonesia who have died from COVID-19. She said that has added to her anxiety about being a carrier, or getting sick and passing it along.
She said she wanted to have her son in school — it's good for his routine and for her to be able to get some things done for herself during that time he's away — but the options left her feeling forced to keep him at home.
"Because of his limitations and communication, somebody has to follow him around, somebody has to prompt him to do stuff or not to do stuff," she said.
The family is paying out of pocket right now for an interventionist, a person who works with people with autism. Rosita said she wishes there was some kind of provincial funding for that kind of help for her son, or at least more clarity about what sorts of things are available for her family.
The provincial government said it factored students with different needs into its planning.
"Personal interactions with intensive needs students' conditions will be in place to allow for the provision of supports within a safe and secure environment, which may include in-school setting or other appropriate spaces for the delivery of education," a statement from a Ministry of Education spokesperson said.
"The Response Planning Team indicated school divisions will work with school staff to address their local contexts, ensuring equitable learning opportunities at the school and community levels are provided to all students."
Trent Meyer's 13-year-old son faces many of the same challenges Rosita's son does. The Meyers made the decision to send their son to school despite the uncertainty. They believe it's the best place for him.
Meyer said he appreciates that there isn't a blueprint for this. He said those in charge are doing the best they can, like everyone else.
"We would have loved more consultation, more focus on kids with additional needs, kids with disabilities, but we always want that," he said.
Meyer said foresight and planning is key.
"We're kind of working in weeks and days here, so if we could have managed some of the weeks and days previous a bit better with a better eye on what the long term impact was, maybe some of us parents wouldn't be as nervous going back to school," he said.