The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone—workers, parents, children. Perhaps one of the most affected groups is students who have learning challenges. Teachers are in uncharted waters with teaching any student online, never mind attempting to apply the accommodations that students with special needs have. For those students, adapting to the changes required by online learning can be particularly challenging. That can cause additional stress, which can make special needs even more pronounced.

Such was the case for Kyla Butler, a sophomore at Jefferson Township High School who has Tourette Syndrome. But instead of letting the challenges get the better of her, Kyla decided to find ways to help herself alleviate the stress. Now, she wants to share her techniques with others who may find themselves in similar situations.

“Kyla and I sat down to brainstorm, and we determined that there was so much being done – making masks or delivering food—we weren’t sure where we could help out,” Kyla’s mother Joan said. “So we talked about her just putting it out there how the stress was affecting her with her disability. We noticed that the stress of online school has caused her to tics to increase,” Joan added.

What Kyla decided would be best for her right now is a combination of exercise, eating right, and staying connected with friends.

“Right now, I’ve been running with my mom, playing soccer, and getting out as much as I can, even if it’s just to take a walk around our property,” Kyla said. “I’ve also been Facetiming with family and friends, just getting in touch with people, staying connected.”

Kyla believes that a healthy diet is also helping her.

“I’m trying to eat less junk food because I’m at home and sitting around so much, and sugar makes me a little hyper. So I’m watching what I eat and allowing myself one treat a day. I’m also drinking less caffeine,” she said.

Kyla has also found that frequent breaks help her with the amount of schoolwork she has online.

“I’ll start in the morning, then I’ll take a lunch break then go back on the computer,” she said. I do take breaks and get up and move around.”

She has noticed a huge change between in-person school and online learning.

“It’s a lot different. We are constantly sitting with our faces locked onto computer all day. There’s no getting up and moving around. And the more work we get the less likely we are to get outside,” she said.

Kyla said her teachers have  cut back on the work. Her mom, who is also an educator, added that Kyla’s teachers have been very understanding.

This is new territory for all of us, and it’s hard for teachers to put the accommodations in when students are working from home. Kyla’s teachers have been great,” Joan said.

When the stress gets to be too much, one thing that always helps Kyla is to think of her “happy place.”

“My mom reminds me to take a breath and think of one place where I’m always at peace. We call it our happy place,” Kyla said.

To continue her work toward helping other students with special needs, Kyla works closely with NJ Tourette Center. She is currently developing a blog to get teens to talk about what they are doing to relax and stay calm and connected, especially during these tough times.


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