Disabilities & Mental Health in Distance Learning

Disabilities & Mental Health and Distance Learning
Posted on 01/21/2021

Staying home and being socially distanced for an extended period of time can have a particularly devastating effect on mental health – particularly with families with small children and children with disabilities.  

Region 19 Head Start Disabilities and Mental Health Program Manager, Cynthia Montes discusses the toll of virtual learning on the mental health of children and families, and answers questions to common concerns:


What are some of the emotional effects of distance learning on PreK children that you commonly hear? 
Some emotional effects on children commonly heard are that children are isolated due to lack of interaction with other children, stress due to lack of structure and routine like in school, and children not being able to stay on task for remote learning.

What are some techniques for parents to mitigate these effects?
Parents can set up a ‘school area’ in the home so their child knows it is time for learning away from distractions, and set up a routine and schedule similar to if they were attending school such as waking the child up early, having them eat breakfast and get ready for lessons. Keep a set bedtime.

What are some effects that distance learning may have on children with certain disabilities?
Students with disabilities may have more difficulty learning while distance learning due to language processing difficulties, being in a language rich environment, and lack of peer modeling to help with development.

What are some helpful techniques for parents of a child with disabilities?
Structure and routine. Ask for resources and ask their teacher for strategies that they can implement at home with their child.

 How do R19 Head Start disabilities resource teachers continue to help teachers and parents conduct remote learning with children with disabilities?Resource teachers are conducting virtual classroom observations and providing strategies to teachers and parents; they are able to provide materials and resources based on need. Resource teachers follow up with parents and teachers to see how strategies are working and if they continue or might need to be changed. Resource teachers are identifying students at risk and meeting with teachers and parents if further evaluation is needed.

 What are some common emotional effects on parents?
Many of our Head Start parents report feeling overwhelmed or stressed as they have multiple students in school with varying times of remote learning. Parents also struggle with having to sit next to their child to keep them on task, lack of financial security as they may not be working or having their employment hours cut to stay home with children since schools are closed.

 What are some solutions Head Start offers families for relief?
Head Start is still offering mental health services with consultants, and we can refer to different agencies to help with utilities, food or whatever other family needs they may have.

 What resources are available to Head Start parents encountering mental effects of quarantine and distance learning?
Parents can contact the teacher or family service worker to address their mental health concern. Resource teacher will follow up and discuss concerns with parent.  Head Start offers services and support and provides information for community agencies.

For more information on ESC R19 Head Start Mental Health and Disabilities services and resources, contact Cynthia Montes at:  [email protected].