Back to School 2021

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Erica Kearney, M.A., LABA, BCBA
[This column was published in the West Springfield Repubican on August 19, 2021 and in the Stoughton Journal, Randolph Herald, Canton Journal, and Holrook Sun on September 2, 2021.]

It’s that time of year again when back-to-school sales are well under way and parents are beginning to count down the days until their children head back to school for the fall. Prior to the pandemic, this was an exciting time for most of us. But since the pandemic started in March of 2020, we have been left with an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty about what our children’s school experiences will be in the future.

The good news is, we have made substantial progress in combating the spread of COVID-19 in schools and workplaces. We are in a better position to handle a variant. We all have pandemic experience and have learned a lot along the way. Both caregivers and educators have learned that things can change at any time, and we need to be ready to pivot and parry at moment’s notice. 

During the last school year, many caregivers became their child’s teacher during remote learning. This was especially true during the early stages of the pandemic when schools were trying to figure out how to best navigate remote learning for all their students. Throughout the year, families had to make huge adjustments to help facilitate remote learning in their homes.

What worked and what didn’t? What did you learn? Some learned that it was best to keep their children learning in separate rooms in order to not distract each other. Others learned that it was better to have small cohorts with family friends so that they could share the responsibilities of supervising remote learning and balance their work life. Teachers and educators learned new ways to connect with their students and each other remotely. 

We have also learned that most students, even those with disabilities, adapted well to having to wear masks and keep a social distance. With the right attitude, creative thinking, and a positive approach, most schools were able to help most of their students successfully return to in-person learning. They just needed time to figure it all out. So, if we have to go back to wearing masks (or continuing wearing them) and practicing social distancing, we are at an advantage because we know how and we know we can.

Many parents of children with developmental disabilities found in-person learning worked best for them because of challenges associated with remote learning access. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is in full support of children with developmental disabilities being prioritized for in-person learning. Many schools, including ours (the May Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield), managed to make all the appropriate adjustments and follow the guidance from DESE to allow for all their students to return for in-person learning.  

Some students may be a little rusty with previously learned skills due to the ongoing changes throughout the previous year. Now is a great time to help them freshen up their academic skills whether it be reading, math flash cards, spelling and writing, or just overall work tolerance. If you have any concerns regarding your child’s performance or social emotional wellbeing, be sure to talk to their teacher prior to the start of the new school year. 

What will the next school year look like? No one is sure just yet. However, when we are faced with challenging times in the future, we need to stop and remember we have been here before. We can get through it again if we focus on the things we know have worked. 

Erica Kearney, M.A., BCBA, is Executive Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Chicopee, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children with ASD and other developmental disabilities. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit