For children with special needs, their challenges do not end with online classes. They also have to deal with various neurological and sensory issues that come with their specific disability, making the challenges multi-fold. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) find it difficult to sustain their attention through online classes, and it can become difficult for teachers to engage them. Similarly, children with autism can find it difficult to get through the day with a change in routine. The problem arises when these issues are looked at from a normative lens, and not from how these are experienced by children with special needs. Among those most affected by the switch online, however, are children on the autistic spectrum who often struggle with social skills, communication, personal relationships and self-regulation. For many of these students, learning via the laptop has been an exercise in frustration. Further, the support that children with special needs require in terms of occupational therapy and special education may not be available and accessible online, leading to a disruption in their therapy and growth.Talking to an online news portal, Anita Prasad, head of special needs at Step by Step in Noida, India said that broadly speaking, anxiety and frustration were now common. Children had become withdrawn, unwilling to speak, staying in their rooms and refusing to attend online classes. They were lonely and missed their friends. Some had meltdowns. Children who once enjoyed school could not cope with looking at a screen to learn. Ambika Sunder, a teacher at Vidyaniketan Academy in Bangalore, found the same problem. For some of my autistic pupils, the sound and bright colours were troubling. Using music also didnt work, Sunder said.Conflicts at home have also impacted children with special needs. Varsha KV, a practising psychologist, said parental conflicts can increase emotional concerns among children with special needs, as the space at home may not feel safe.According to research by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANS) since 2020, 29 per cent of children with special needs were not able to access online schooling, one of the possible reasons being their belonging to lower socioeconomic strata. This figure is from the small portion of children with special needs who attend school and have access to education. The study further suggests that the hardest hit by the loss of support were the toddlers and younger kids who need real-life face-to-face interaction, since the intervention, if done early enough, can change the trajectory of a neurodevelopmental condition from very, very bad to not so bad.Theres Silver Lining TooPrasad, at Step by Step in India, has noticed unexpected benefits too. One is that parents, since they are present during online classes, now have a much better understanding of their child. By watching teachers on the screen interact with their child, they have gained fresh information about their childs abilities, strengths and weaknesses and also understood how to improve their relationship through this knowledge, Prasad said.The internet has also made it easier for some students to access lessons tailored to their abilities; videos for the deaf, taped lesson for the blind.Then there is the fact that in some cases, online learning is simply a good match for some disorders.Prasad said that for some of her autistic pupils, learning online was a fantastic experience. Whereas they would be easily distracted in the classroom by any kind of movement or sound, they found it easier to concentrate online.Some autistic children dont enjoy social stimulation or too much eye contact. They dont like to interact too much so they were happy to be at home and enjoyed learning through videos and pictures. The visual stimulation worked wonders for some, she said.