Decommissioning normal: COVID-19 as a disruptor of school norms for young people with learning disabilities

Br J Learn Disabil. 2021 Dec;49(4):393-402. doi: 10.1111/bld.12399. Epub 2021 Jun 2.


The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to live at a social distance from other people. This has changed the way people live and are included socially.This paper focuses on the unexpected ways schools have altered and deepened social inclusion for children with learning disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.We interviewed six people: two people who work for a Local Authority, one Headteacher of a special school, one Special Educational Needs and Disability Consultant, one young person with a learning disability and her mother.The findings and conclusions show the "new normal" caused by COVID-19 can help to deepen social inclusion for children with learning disabilities. For example, it can help children communicate in alternative ways with their teachers and friends. It can help families to understand more about their son/daughter's educational abilities; this means they can advocate better for them. It can help professionals to meet the needs of children with learning disabilities more quickly.We do not enjoy living at a social distance from everyone else, but we do want to make sure that lessons can be learnt from this moment in time.

Background: To slow the spread of COVID-19, on 20 March 2020, nurseries, schools and colleges across England were closed to all learners, apart from those who were children of key workers or were considered "vulnerable." As young people with learning disabilities, families, professionals and schools become acquainted with the Erfahrung of the new horizon brought about by COVID-19, the negativity of altered social inclusion is becoming the "new normal." Capturing this transitory moment in time, this paper reflexively analyses the curiously productive variables of altered ecological pathways to social inclusion for people with learning disabilities.

Methods: Taking a hermeneutic stance, this paper draws on Gadamer's construction of the nature of new experiences. Focussed on the experience of social inclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic, semi-structured interviews were conducted with six key stakeholders. As the phenomenon in question was new, an inductive approach to thematic analysis was applied.

Findings: The critical tenet of this paper is that the Erfahrung of COVID-19 has created the conditions for a "new normal" which have afforded children with learning disabilities altered opportunities for social inclusion, whether that be through increased power/agency for them and their families and/or new modes of connectedness leading to enhanced relationships.

Conclusion: Whilst the impact of COVID-19 has been a negative one for many aspects of society, application of Simplican and Gadamer's theories on social inclusion and the nature of new experiences has permitted the surfacing of new possibilities for the social inclusion of children with learning disabilities.

Keywords: inclusive education; learning (intellectual) disabilities; teaching and learning.