Originally posted on LinkedIn.
This week marks one of the best holidays of the year: Thanksgiving. One of my favorite family traditions is to go around the table and say what we are thankful for.
Last year, like so many families, we had a scaled-down celebration. I remember that it was harder to find things to be thankful for as we headed into the first long Covid winter. The pandemic, after all, has done a number on all of us. And it’s been especially difficult for neurodivergent kids and their families. Neurodivergent learners rely heavily on routines; these past 20 months have been entirely unfamiliar. It’s caused tremendous disruption to these learners and their caregivers.
And yet, more than 20 months in, there are many silver linings that emerged out of the pandemic. Even in these difficult times, there are reasons for neurodivergent parents to be grateful.
A Newfound Acknowledgement
For far too long, those who learn differently have been overlooked brushed aside, or altogether ignored. Many curriculums at best, did not cater to them. At worst, these curricula forced them to conform to the ways others learn.
That changed a great deal during the pandemic. With 21% of American adults facing their own mental issues during the pandemic, mental health got much more deserved attention for children as well. Rather than only prioritizing outcomes: many schools and educators are looking beyond grades. They are focused on nurturing the entire child, supporting their enrichment, and prioritizing a child’s strengths and interests. Many schools, districts, and states have launched initiatives that focus on mental health and social and emotional learning (SEL).
For example, Chicago Public schools announced a $24 million plan to invest in mental health and trauma support programs for students and staff. Public schools in Miami hired 45 mental health coordinators, while also providing mental health awareness and SEL training to staff. Pew reports that the state of Maryland created a mental health response team to “address the needs of students who have experienced trauma during the pandemic and are stressed beyond their ability to cope.” This team is dispatched to schools and districts that are dealing with these issues.
While many of us are back to a more ‘normal’ school routine that is predominantly in-person, the last year and a half has created space for conversations about mental health. And hopefully, it ensures that mental health is a key part of curriculums going forward.
Availability of Resources Online
In the past, learning online or remotely was viewed as ineffective. If there’s anything we learned during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that technology empowers us to do things we never thought possible: and that includes getting an education via video conferencing. Online learning is not perfect, of course, but it provides access to more resources than ever.
As a result of the move to digital learning environments, students have had greater opportunities to get specialized instruction. Students can meet with educational specialists all the way across the country via Zoom. They can talk with an educator who specializes in teaching the ways that best fit their learning style. Students can get more tailored attention when it works with their schedule. The flexibility and personalized attention break down significant barriers for neurodivergent learners.
At the same time, technology has empowered parents to connect and share information like never before. Even during the pandemic, I felt more connected than ever before to fellow parents. That is thanks to many more parents who used online forums to connect. I’ve found numerous resources that have been invaluable to my son, thanks to other parents who have come online during this time and connected with me. More than anything, it’s made all of us feel less alone.
It’s been a trying period for everyone, but teachers have been hit especially hard by the impact of the pandemic. Even before Covid-19 struck, an average of 36% of teachers were likely to quit their jobs in any given year. 77% of teachers are working more today than they were a year ago, and the top two reasons for driving teachers to quit their jobs are high stress and insufficient pay.
There are so many phenomenal educators that go unappreciated, underpaid, and overworked. I’m taking steps this year to ensure they feel valued and know the impact they have on my child. The parents in my community are offering additional volunteer hours, while I’ve heard of other parents providing classroom care packages to show gratitude to educators.
Teachers are truly superheroes: one study found that the average teacher works 400 hours of overtime every year. The National Education Association found that they spend an average of $459 on teaching materials annually – out of their own pocket. This comes even as the average teacher salary is at least 3.1% lower than the rest of U.S. jobs.
Teachers need and deserve much better. How parents, our schools, and society overall can better support them is a much larger conversation – one for a separate article. But I am endlessly grateful for the critical work they do every day for our children.
We’ve moved forward in many ways over the past 20 months. We’ve still, unfortunately, got a long way to go. But we would have a much longer, more arduous journey if it weren’t for the many silver linings that have come out of this pandemic. As a parent of a neurodiverse learner, that’s what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving.