Mask for students with special educational needs. The new reality with which we have started the 2020 school year. In which everything is marked by the protocols put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need to reflect on multiple aspects. In this case. I propose a reflection on the use of masks at school age, from six years of age, and how it can influence the learning process and relationship of a certain number of students.
I am referring to students with special educational needs associated with Hearing Impairment. Autism Spectrum Disorder and Language Disorders.
The widespread use of masks as a means of protection from the virus in educational settings by both. Teachers and students themselves have distorted and hindered. The teaching and learning process by limiting the nodding and mime information we associate with oral language.
coronavirus and the use of masks are also affecting the social relationship between equals since the measures imposed have limited spontaneous verbal interactions between classmates, games and leisure activities at recess.
In our daily experience, we receive letters from both teachers and students expressing difficulties in expressing. Communicating verbal messages by the former and in understanding and deciphering the messages mentioned by the latter.
Many students reported that they do not hear the teacher well. Knowing that their ability to hear has not changed since the previous year, but that their ability to hear has decreased due to distortion in the message resulting from the use of masks.
Special educational needs
As a practising counsellor who advises and monitors students with special educational needs, I want to share my reflection on the impact these items (masks) that have become part of our lives can have on students with disorders or disabilities that affect communication.
Mechanisms of visual integration
In the case of hard of hearing students who have difficulty picking up the verbal teacher’s message due to their sensory deficits, the use of masks means they are denied access to visual information that complements the oral language. These students make use of mechanisms of visual integration, and lip-reading, in order to understand and decode oral messages. The lack of visual information about the distinct position of articular organs to be able to distinguish between a particular sound can have a negative impact on accessing verbal information and thus reducing its accessibility.
Mimic and gestural information
Another group of students who will also see access to information compromised by the use of the mask are students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The mimic and gestural information that accompanies our verbal speech is key when interpreting the different messages that we exchange in the act of communication. In the case of students with autism, it affects not only the moment of explanations by the teacher in the classroom but also the communicative exchange between students in non-regulated spaces such as recess, dining room, etc.
Finally, refer to students with language disorders, both comprehension and expression. And who use masks also lose visual information that complements oral speech for its correct interpretation or that adds “supplement” difficulty. When expressing yourself because if your oral production is already experiencing difficulties. It must be understood by your interlocutor on a regular basis. Use of this physical barrier present in the oral cavity can be an element that hinders your ability to understand yourself in an educational context.
I could not end this thinking without engaging teachers who these days are facing the challenging task of education in the context of COVID-19, and request an additional effort in caring for these most vulnerable students. Being aware of the difficulties they face, asking them if they understood the message well, and using alternative tools such as pictograms, imitation, or any other element that enhances communication can contribute to improving these children’s lives, enhancing their learning and improving their skills in the school environment.