March 31, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has been the single greatest challenge Kayla’s Children Centre has ever faced in serving children with special needs and who are medically fragile. The complete removal of, or lack of access to KCC’s services would have been detrimental to many families.

Fortunately, the organization has been deemed an essential workplace and can continue to operate under legislated exemptions to support families and help mitigate risk, setbacks and loss of skills as a result of the school and therapy clinic closure.

Most students continue to learn and receive therapy virtually, through Google Classrooms, Zoom lessons, and telehealth sessions. There are some who are not able to be engaged virtually and who need personal support.

What sets KCC apart from other organizations deemed essential workplaces that serve persons with disabilities is our in-home 1:1 support program, along with robust distance education that was mobilized in less than four hours from the time the school and clinic were forced to close.

This has been a game changer for parents like Rachel, whose son Jay would have been at risk of losing critical skills.

Jay was born with Cerebral Palsy. Since birth, it has taken a team of educators and therapists at KCC to help him develop life skills like communicating and moving independently. Currently five years old, after years of intensive therapy, Jay is finally achieving a new milestone – taking his first steps at home. Rachel, credits the intense training she received from his physiotherapist (within hours of the announcement of the school and clinic closure) and daily telehealth physio sessions as being their lifeline.

“When I first received the email that KCC was closing due to COVID-19 I panicked. How would I give my son the therapy he gets in school? Will all his progress go down the drain? KCC did an incredible job creating 1:1 physio. Jay has been taking independent steps at school with his physiotherapist but never felt confident to take any steps at home. Once Zoom was his only option for physio, he started taking steps at home, which has been a goal for years! Thank you KCC and TS Frankel for giving us this opportunity.” — Rachel Breitman

Jay and his mom, Rachel, engage in the virtual one-to-one therapy with a KCC phsyiotherapist

While the media reports parents’ frustrations and failed attempts to home school or setbacks in children with special needs in the public education system, many KCC parents are experiencing something different.

“The flood of emails from grateful parents is overwhelming,” says Yaffi Scheinberg, Executive Director and Head of School. “They are beyond touched at the extraordinary level of service, caring and support they are experiencing, but more than that, they feel empowered. Instead of feeling helpless and defeated – like they did when this crisis began – parents feel armed and more confident to take an active role in their children’s therapy and education.”

That’s not to say everything is perfect. Teachers and therapists must troubleshoot technical glitches and challenges presented by virtual learning and therapy. There are many hours in between online sessions and parents are struggling to keep children occupied or stop them from completely melting down. One mother shared her daughter only stops crying when it’s time for an online session.

Parents are being called upon in superhuman ways. On top of already challenging parental duties, now they must also be physiotherapists PLUS speech therapists PLUS occupational therapists PLUS teachers. It’s a lot to ask but there is little choice.

Téa is nine years old and has Rett Syndrome which necessitates a specialized wheelchair for mobility and constant medical care due to daily, life-threatening seizures. Téa is non-verbal and requires specialized eye-gaze technology to communicate and participate in cognitive activities, as well as one-to-one support. Through KCC’s loaner program and in-home support program, Téa has been able to continue therapy and keep up with the curriculum being delivered online to the rest of her class. For three hours a day, while Téa is engaged in learning and therapy, her family is afforded much needed respite for the sake of their own mental and physical health.

“The KCC team is remarkable,” says Téa’s mother, Arianna. “We love them and cannot thank them enough for making us truly feel like family.”

Scheinberg says perhaps one of the best  outcomes of this crisis is the potential for everlasting positive change for families.

“Parents are telling me they are astounded by what they didn’t know was possible with their child’s therapy and education. Getting to watch and listen to how KCC’s therapists verbalize cues and interact with their child has given them a whole new perspective on their true abilities and new skills to achieve results at home.”

KCC is resolute in its commitment to the health and safety of our frontline staff and the welfare of the children and families we continue to serve. You can find updates and more information atkaylaschildrencentre.org/covid-19-update