Assistance group finds money in virtual services for young people with special needs

While nothing can replace individual attention, especially for the young people most affected, we have found that this younger generation, despite their challenges, are receptive to virtual learning.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, The Help Group, a Southern California nonprofit that serves children, teens and young adults with special needs, found a silver lining in switching to learning. remote and remote services – virtual offers have a necessary and advantageous place in the provision of services. Given its success, The Help Group will continue to offer remote services, even as many organizations and businesses across the country slowly begin to reopen.

The Help Group has a long history of providing innovative programs in special education, autism services, mental health treatment, family support, and training throughout Southern California. Never has that been truer than when the agency transitioned to remote learning and remote services during COVID-19 “Safer at Home” orders. There were no evidence-based models for delivering specialized day classes, after-school enrichment, and life skills coaching virtually. The experience of moving all of its training, clinical and enrichment programs, and creating new ones, to a virtual platform has been empowering and exciting. The biggest lesson learned was that providing a virtual platform for special schools and other services would expand and strengthen the continuum available to young people with special needs long after COVID is over.

When the “Safer at Home” orders were first put in place, most families were thrown into a very unusual and confusing situation, which was only exacerbated for families of children with special needs. specials. For example, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) thrive on consistency, structure, and predictability. Along the same lines, many LGBTQ+ teens and young adults have not dated, regarding their sexuality and/or gender identity with family members they are quarantined with. An increase in anxiety and depression has been reported in all communities with special needs. For the most part, they simply didn’t know where to turn. So when they were given the opportunity to participate in over 15 virtual classes, parenting supports, and therapy groups, the response was overwhelming.

Here are some of the benefits The Help Group has identified by offering virtual courses, programs and materials:

  • – For parents, young adults, and children, when the typical stressors of having to travel to a class or event were removed, they felt there to fully enjoy the class. Several of the children who took virtual lessons said they preferred this method because they could participate from the comfort of their own homes and didn’t have to worry about new or unpredictable surroundings. One mother reported that although her son was extremely hesitant to attend a Worry Warriors class, after the first session he said, “I can’t wait to see my friends again next week.” For the LGBTQ+ community, some teenage customers have expressed how much easier it is for them to participate from their bedroom, especially when they may not have parental support for being driven to an LGBTQ+ event or ‘they haven’t gone out with their parents yet.
  • – Social skills and anxiety reduction skills can be taught effectively through a virtual platform, even to children with special needs. Almost all children and their parents who attended a social skills group reported learning new skills and being able to generalize them to offline situations. Using a virtual platform to teach social skills, while revolutionary, can also be seen as common sense given that as a society we are moving towards an increase in “work from home” jobs. Having learned social and adaptive skills through virtual means, children with ASD and other social challenges can have an edge in such a competitive job market. Additionally, the landscape of social interactions is shifting towards virtual friendships. By offering therapy groups through virtual means, The Help Group is able to teach more “real life” skills related to what their future is likely to look like. As part of the virtual social skills programs, several children have bonded by exchanging their personal YouTube channels with each other.
  • – Virtual platforms allow for a much wider geographic reach and promote greater diversity. In their first round of classes, families from several states and other countries as far away as Saudi Arabia signed up. Many parents shared that they could not find any virtual programming for their children locally and expressed their gratitude that there were productive, educational and fun activities their children could participate in during their quarantine period. While in-person classes can sometimes lead to bullying and rejection from those who need extra support, this negativity doesn’t seem to happen in virtual classes. One parent reached out to say that their child, who had never attended a cooking class before, felt a strong sense of self-determination and independence by being able to participate in the class. His mother shared that her son had discovered a passion for cooking and they now plan to continue cooking together. She added that it was the first time he had been able to attend a class with such a diverse group where his need for a wheelchair was taken into account.

Building on the success of The Help Group’s distance learning school programs and virtual lesson offerings, The Help Group has moved forward with virtual summer camps for young people aged 6-21 with autism spectrum disorders and mental disorders. other special needs. So far, 72% of participating campers will be from outside the Greater Los Angeles area. The Help Group also continues to offer life skills coaching to young adults and plans to launch more virtual classes in the fall. While Help Group students will at some point return to their school campuses, the organization plans to implement long-term distance learning options and virtual programs for the community with special needs who may wish or need remote services, regardless of their geographical location.

“While nothing can replace individual attention, especially for the young people most affected, we have found that this younger generation, despite their challenges, are receptive to virtual learning,” says Dr Laurie Stephens, Senior Director of autism. Programs at The Help Group.

The Aid Group has always been ahead of the curve – launching the nation’s first STEM school for students with social and learning differences. “It’s exciting to think about offering distance learning or virtual programming year-round. This crisis has given us an opportunity to expand our services and expand our reach to serve even more young people,” says Dr Susan Berman, COO of The Help Group.

Despite the challenges presented in these uncertain times, The Help Group will continue to evolve, refine and explore new techniques and strategies to meet the needs of their students, clients and families.

Dr. Berman promises, “We are committed to helping young people realize their potential to lead positive, productive and rewarding lives, regardless of circumstance or distance.

To learn more about The Help Group’s specialty day schools, young adult services, home schooling, mental health, vocational and residential programs, visit or call admissions at 877-943-5747.

For media inquiries, please contact Erika Maya at emaya(at)thehelpgroup(dot)org.

About the Help Group

The Help Group is the largest, most innovative and comprehensive non-profit organization serving children, teens and young adults with special needs related to autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays, abuse and emotional challenges through its wide range of specialized education. , therapy and outreach programs. Recently, The Help Group launched programs to serve LGBTQ+ youth and homeschooled students.

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Perry A. Thomasson