'We are failing our children:' Durham mother says her child with autism struggles with virtual learning amid COVID-19

Tuesday, August 25, 2020
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Durham mother says her child with autism struggles with virtual learning amid COVID-19

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham Public Schools said that although it has seen significant improvement to remote learning with the access of more laptops this school year, it is working through some challenges of helping each child with specific needs.

ABC11 spoke with Princess Pedew, a Durham mother with a child who has autism. Pedew said a week into the new school year, she is feeling stressed out, anxious and frustrated.

"We are failing our children. We're not helping them," Pedew said.

Pedew works from home and is a single mom to 12-year-old QJ.

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Between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., QJ sits on Zoom calls with three special education teachers. But Pedew said she is struggling to do her own work because QJ won't stay focused.

"He's waving, 'Hi mommy. Come scratch my back. Oh, it's lunchtime. Can QJ ride bike? Or I want my iPad,'" Pedew said. "I'm not a special needs teacher. I have to run this household. I have to work. Technology issues, log-in issues, sites down. That triggers more anxiety or meltdowns for QJ."

Princess worries that QJ's social and academic development will regress under remote learning.

It's a common concern for parents with children who have autism to feel that in-person learning is preferred.


According to the Autism Society of North Carolina, 1 in 57 children in the state has autism.

The group said it is important for parents to document their challenges and communicate those concerns to the school system.

"You have to take care of yourself and be calm so you can project that calm feeling for your child," said David Laxton, a spokesman for the Autism Society of NC.

Laxton said the organization is offering free webinars to help families who need help calming their child, or tips and guides on providing structure.

"Social narratives are basically stories that have words and pictures and for an individual with autism, it helps make things more understandable, makes it more concrete and relatable to them," Laxton said.

Durham Public Schools responded to Pedew and other parents with similar plights.

"We are working closely with our staff to ensure they have the supports and resources they need and encouraging Individualized Education Program teams to meet to plan and problem solve around individual student needs."

Pedew said she has communicated her concerns to her son's teachers.

She's considered hiring a tutor but learned that would cost her $1,400 a month.