Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The pandemic's disruption of in-person instruction is especially difficult for the seven million U.S. students with disabilities and other special needs and their families.

The big picture: The sudden and sustained switch to online learning is straining already under-resourced special education providers — and could lead to even steeper learning loss among a vulnerable student population, experts say.

  • Children with special needs "are hit hardest with gaps in their schooling," said Bob Cunningham, executive director of learning development at Understood, an organization that supports parents and students with disabilities.
  • "There is no practical reason to believe that the slide won't be greater for kids with disabilities."

Background: Schools are federally required to serve students' needs by developing Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, to guide specialized services they receive in school.

  • When schools went virtual in the spring, teachers and parents had almost no time to reconfigure these plans for remote learning.

Over the summer, some schools found ways to move IEPs online, but there are a slew of problems. "Delivering special education online is not easy," says Emily Smith, founder of Teleteachers, which provides online tutoring to students with disabilities. "We're seeing a big learning curve."

Hands-on learning is difficult over a laptop screen. Many teachers use tactile stimulation to help students learn, which relies on the sense of touch.

  • For example, in Northern Virginia, "8-year-old Theo Duran, who is autistic, struggles more to walk up the stairs or hold a crayon to write — all tasks he was making progress on before the coronavirus pandemic hit and shut down his school," Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss write for the Washington Post.

Students rely on in-person learning so they can pick up on social cues and further develop socially and behaviorally.

  • And the parents of students who receive multiple services — such as occupational therapy, speech therapy or counseling — have to keep up with a packed schedule of online sessions on top of virtual class time.

Special educators often have behavioral aides or other support staff in the classroom.

  • "In our new environment, there is no support staff," Smith says. "That falls on the parents who are likely working and likely have no idea how to help their child participate in a session."

The other side: Some students could potentially benefit from online school since they will be learning in the familiar environment of home.

  • Once teachers and parents figure it out, the integration of new technology could make special education more tailored for the individual student, Cunningham says.

Go deeper... Podcast: Special ed under pressure

Go deeper

The childless vaccine

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

It'll likely be a long time before children are vaccinated against COVID-19, even though vaccinating kids could eventually play an integral role in reducing the virus' spread.

The big picture: None of the leading contenders in the U.S. are being tested for their effectiveness in children. Even once one of them gains authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, there will only be a limited number of available doses.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
19 hours ago - Health

Why kids get less severe coronavirus infections

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

A new study suggests that the reason why children get less severe coronavirus infections than adults is because they have a different immune response, NYT reports.

What they're saying: "The bottom line is, yes, children do respond differently immunologically to this virus, and it seems to be protecting the kids," Betsy Herold, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who led the study, told the Times.

Sep 28, 2020 - World

India's coronavirus cases top 6 million

A health worker checks vitals of a coronavirus patient inside the Commonwealth Games Village Covid Care Centre, in New Delhi, India, on Sunday. Photo: Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India's Ministry of Health confirmed the country's coronavirus case numbers surpassed 6 million on Monday after reporting 82,170 new infections in 24 hours.

Why it matters: India is the second country after the U.S. to hit 6 million cases. The South Asian country's COVID-19 tally hit 5 million on Sept. 16 and 4 million on Sept. 4. The ministry said that over 5 million Indian residents have recovered from the virus. But, AP notes, "New infections in India are currently being reported faster than anywhere else in the world."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.