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Utah mother worries her son with autism will struggle to catch up after pandemic

By Heather Simonsen, KSL TV | Posted - May 27, 2020 at 10:07 a.m.



AMERICAN FORK — An American Fork mom is worried that her 6-year-old son’s transition to homeschooling will leave him far, far behind the rest of the kids his age. That’s because he has autism and severe speech problems. It’s a challenge with no easy solution.

Cooper is a champ on his bike. But life hasn’t been a smooth ride.

“He was pretty much nonverbal until age 5,” said Loretta Tveten, Cooper’s mother, who lives with her family in American Fork. Cooper has autism and speech problems. But since he enrolled in Spectrum Academy last fall, his progress has been remarkable.

Most of the kids at this charter school have autism, or other special needs.

“He’d come home and do stuff and I’d be like, ‘Where did that come from?'”

He’s now putting simple sentences together and his family is thrilled.

Tveten says distance learning doesn’t work for Cooper.

“There were like eight kids in his class and there were four teachers. That’s why he’s made so much progress. That’s just hard to do from a distance,” she said. “This (an electronic learning device) has like seriously been our saving grace because it feels like a game, so he’ll do this.”

And his progress has slowed way down.

“I keep hearing, ‘Well everyone’s going to be behind.’ But that’s not true for my kid. Because he’s already behind, he’s going to be way behind,” Tveten said.

In 2019, there were 88,267 students with disabilities enrolled in Utah’s public schools, according to the Utah State Board of Education. Keeping them on track requires good communication between teachers and parents.

The key is, “Finding what works for that student, for that household and for the educator as well,” said Leah Voorhies, PhD, assistant superintendent of student support, Utah State Board of Education. “I think being creative and trying different options to support a student with a disability is really important.”

While classrooms are empty at Spectrum Academy in Pleasant Grove, teachers and counselors are working hard to keep students learning online and through regular counseling appointments, because early intervention, and consistency, is so critical.

“We have our occupational therapists, and our speech therapists that still do sessions virtually with our students, and help the parents understand how they can help them at home,” said Liz Banner, director of academics, South Region, Spectrum Academy.

For Banner, the mission is personal. “I feel every day with parents and the concerns and struggles that they have and the worries,” Banner said.

Her son, Jackson, age 19, inspired her work in special education.

“He was diagnosed when he was about 2 years old with autism,” she said. “I have had that passion to help special needs students ever since.”

She knows these are especially challenging times for families like Cooper’s, but says special education teachers are trained to help students recoup learning after long breaks.

For Cooper and his mom, the day his school reopens can’t come soon enough. There are many special education resources online for parents including: <https://schools.utah.gov/coronavirushttps://www.uen.org/learnathome/teachers.shtml>

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