School closings due to the pandemic have created anxiety among parents of students. Private psychology clinics are taken over by parents who are calling for a diagnosis for their child, fearing that he will be left unsupported when school returns in the fall.
The famous “diagnostic race” started again with deconfinement, noted The duty. Neuropsychologists report an increase in consultations to screen for learning or behavioral problems in children. The waiting lists are getting longer.
Confinement was difficult for many families in telework, notes neuropsychologist Benoît Hammarrenger. The waiting list runs until mid-August at the clinic he runs, CERC.
Parents consult, explains Benoît Hammarrenger, because their children were restless or struggled to concentrate during school at home. They are concerned, for example, about a possible attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“It is a disorder that could be noted by the school, but for many parents, it was a bit understated,” says Benoît Hammarrenger. They were faced with something that teachers face every day. “
This does not mean that the child has ADHD, underlines Benoît Hammarrenger. The exceptional living conditions of the past few months may have caused unrest among the young people. “Obviously confinement is unnatural for the child,” he said. He needs to get out of the house, to be in contact with other children, to move. “
Experts agree that the forced break in schooling for thousands of students will be a challenge when school starts. Secondary schools have been closed since mid-March, except for a minority of students with disabilities. Half of elementary students returned to school from mid-May – none of them in Montreal, where schools have never reopened.
It is starting to make a lot of children who have not set foot in a school for five months by the start of the school year, notes Nancy Granger, professor at the Faculty of Education at the University of Sherbrooke. “In this context, all students can be vulnerable. Those who were before the pandemic will be even more so, “she said.
The professor is part of a group of experts consulted this week by the Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, to offer support to students with difficulties during the fall semester. Representatives of professional orders (psychologists, occupational therapists, orthopedagogues, guidance counselors, psychoeducators) and other specialists on the subject met to discuss with the Minister.
Nancy Granger says she understands the parents’ anxiety, but suggests that everyone take a deep breath. For the professor at the University of Sherbrooke, the majority of children can very well manage without being diagnosed with any disorder whatsoever.
“Are we in school or in the hospital? We’re over-medicalizing education, “she said. Like many experts and parents, Nancy Granger recalls that the school network has the obligation to offer services to students who need them, with or without a diagnosis.
She deplores the propensity to prescribe drugs – or diagnoses – to students with difficulties. Some may need it, but she said the system is designed to educate all students, even those with learning disabilities.
“We will have to clean up in there. We must stop medicalizing education to offer services instead, she said. We have to go back to the basics, which is to offer education for all. We accept that the children are not all at the expected level. The teacher adapts his practices according to his professional judgment. “
Commodification of troubles
Bianca Nugent, President of the Quebec Coalition of Parents of Special Needs Children, agrees with Professor Granger.
“We have long denounced the race for diagnostics. We are witnessing the commodification of troubles. Private clinics must be asked for help at a high price. The school has to take responsibility, “said the doctoral student in social work at the University of Ottawa.
“Parents believe that the only way to get services for their children is to have a diagnosis. There is a skills gap in the school environment to help our children, ”she adds.
The Coalition calls for a shift in initial teacher training to “make special education something normal”.
Pending the start of the new school year, the Center de psychologie M-C Guay receives approximately 20% more calls than during the usual summer periods, according to its founder Marie-Claude Guay, also a professor in the Department of Psychology at UQAM.
“The parents are not panicked,” says the neuropsychologist. They want to make sure they are well equipped and prepare their children for this rather special start to the school year. “
Joël Monzée, a doctor in neuroscience, believes that patience is needed in order to resume teaching. “The biggest trap would be to go headlong to catch up too quickly,” said this expert, who is part of the group of educational scholars consulted this week by Minister Roberge.
To focus on the basics – which is teaching, not assessment – he recommends suspending the department’s exams for two years. He also proposes to send psychologists, orthopedagogues and other health professionals to schools, to support teachers in classrooms.
“We need to individualize learning as much as possible, to adapt it to the needs of students. The bond of trust with the teachers will be fundamental, ”says Joël Monzée.