Faces of COVID-19: Mum explains strategy for homeschooling son with special needs

AT HOME: Aspect Riverina School student Aaron Keating at home with mum Yasmin following COVID-19 restrictions. Aaron has autism spectrum disorder.
AT HOME: Aspect Riverina School student Aaron Keating at home with mum Yasmin following COVID-19 restrictions. Aaron has autism spectrum disorder.

It's day two. Aaron and his mum Yasmin Keating are in the thick of home learning in line with government restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Frustrated, he says, "You're not my teacher, you're my mum."

These words have no doubt been spoken in households across Australia this past month, however, for this mother and son duo, it's different. Aaron has autism spectrum disorder and his mum, Yasmin, is now essentially taking on the role as his special needs teacher.

Diagnosed at three-and-a-half, Aaron usually attends Aspect Riverina School, Albury - his main challenges speech and language and a learning disability.

"Aaron is extremely delayed in some areas, average in some areas and quite clever in other areas. This is autism," Mrs Keating said.

After making the decision to keep Aaron at home, Mrs Keating was given a "home package of schooling".

"At first I felt overwhelmed, as I now have many hats. I am predominantly a stay-at-home mum, a homemaker and I do work casually for my husband's business," Mrs Keating said.

"It is very difficult to keep a child on the autism spectrum engaged.

"Aaron has difficulty, when not kept in a great routine, of not being able to maintain concentration and the ability to sit for a period of time.

"So you can imagine having a child ... removed from their normal routine at school and ... a home environment where they are usually able to do what they want ... how difficult that is to manage ...

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"My anxiety levels generally revolve around the fact that I know that Aaron will find this challenging, and having a balance between keeping him settled and calm and also trying to participate in his learning programs can be a challenge - also for the teacher."

However, with little choice, she is ready to "take it on" for as long as it takes.

"Now that I have a lot of the tools required to deal with the change, I feel much more empowered and ready."

"Aaron's teacher was able to provide me a general layout of his day and a package full of literacy activities to perform.

"I'm able to provide his usual literacy program that is delivered to Aaron each day to continue what he was doing at school."

Working with therapists for many years alongside Aaron has, Mrs Keating said, taught her a lot.

As you can imagine Aaron's cognitive ability is challenged in trying to understand why COVID19 or coronavirus is making him stay home.

Yasmin Keating

"I guess I have some skills already to cope. As I, for one, know my child, and everyone with a child with a disability knows their child best.

"I've had some experience in supporting those with disabilities and worked around children with disability at school as a teacher's aide.

"Aaron and I have attended a lot of intervention, as I was a stay-at-home mum and available to do an intense amount of therapy, and attend many seminars and workshops over the years to gain as much knowledge and cutting-edge information as I could."

Unfortunately, she is unsure that this is the case for all families with children with disabilities who now find themselves in a home-learning situation.

"Some children may not have had parents that have been able to partake as much in interventions as myself.

"Although many families do their best, I find many struggle as they have full-time work commitments.

"This makes intervention and life, in general, very difficult."

Aaron usually attends Aspect Riverina School, Albury - his main challenges speech and language and a learning disability.

Aaron usually attends Aspect Riverina School, Albury - his main challenges speech and language and a learning disability.

While Aaron is happy to go to school and follows his programs most days with limited issues, Mrs Keating knows learning at home will look very different from the 9am to 3pm school day he is used to.

"It's extremely unrealistic and our school is aware of it being a challenge.

"I have set myself a target that if I can get Aaron to engage with me or other family members in activities that are built around his programs then we are doing well.

"As you can imagine Aaron's cognitive ability is challenged in trying to understand why COVID-19 or coronavirus is making him stay home.

"We use social stories to assist with most things that are hard to explain or when he is having difficulty grasping a situation.

"I do most of my own. I prefer them to be specific to him and his surroundings, as I find that works well for him.

"Most times he manages quite well without visual prompts and stories, but in tricky events like COVID-19 a social story can be extremely helpful."

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This story Mum explains strategy for homeschooling son with special needs first appeared on The Canberra Times.