How has COVID-19 affected social inclusion and interaction for students with learning disabilities?

Apr 28 2022

Key Takeaway:


While the COVID-19 pandemic created a so-called “new normal” for social inclusion and interactions, particularly in schools where socializing is key for student progress, this study raises the question of whether new means of communication actually improved student efficacy and communication due to the altered norms of school life. —Frankie Garbutt

What Social Inclusion Lessons Can We Learn from the Pandemic?

In this article, Beaton (Leeds Beckett University), Codina (University of Derby), and Wharton (University of Winchester) set out to analyse how the pandemic of 2020 affected the social inclusion of children with learning disabilities in England. They strove to find lessons which could be learnt from this unique situation to inform future practices and success.

The authors outline that by “drawing on the work of Simplican et al., (2015),1 this paper chooses to adopt an ecological pathways approach to social inclusion, reflexively analyzing how ‘individual,’ ‘interpersonal’ and ‘organizational’ variables influence ‘interpersonal relationships’ and ‘community participation’ for children with learning disabilities.” To gather data, “semi-structured interviews were conducted with six key stakeholders. As the phenomenon in question was new, an inductive approach to thematic analysis was applied.” 

Pandemic Effects on Social Interaction


The analysis of the data allowed the researchers to identify that teachers and students embraced the new means of communication as this allowed for greater student agency in contrast to traditional means of communication in a school setting. For example, learners who identified as selectively mute used chat functions to find their voice or chose to switch cameras on or off during lessons. This resulted in improved connectedness. Equally, video conferences were an effective tool in the collaboration and involvement of parents/children and external professionals in decision-making processes like evaluation meetings. “Drawing on Simplican et al.’s (2015)1 analysis of social inclusion, structurally moving the location, intensity and formality of family liaison appears in some cases to have deepened the ‘bond’ between family and school, which arguably increases trust reciprocity and confidence.”

Increase in Parental Insight and Advocacy


Moreover, it was found that parents gained insight into their child’s learning and a more accurate representation of their skills due to their participation in the classroom during home learning. Consequently, parents and children were able to advocate for different means of learning support or increase their children’s level of independence because their Teaching Assistant, on whom they may have previously relied, was no longer available.

Nonetheless, the authors also highlight that “the nature of the pandemic has meant [that] many of the efficacious elements described in this paper rely on families and professionals possessing digital capability and capital.” Therefore, being aware of the availability of devices, access to the internet, or other necessary resources can enhance or hinder the social inclusion of stakeholders.  


Conclusively, the study outlines changes for children with learning disabilities through “increased power/agency for them and their families and/or new modes of connectedness leading to enhanced relationships with key stakeholders and timeliness of reviews.” The authors concede that the small sample size may limit the generalizability of their conclusions. 

Summarized article: 

Beaton, M. C., Codina, G. N., & Wharton, J. C. Decommissioning normal: COVID-19 as a disruptor of school norms for young people with learning disabilities. British Journal of Learning Disabilities. 2021; 49: 393– 402. https://doi.org/10.1111/bld.12399

Summary by: Frankie Garbutt – Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Researchers Mhairi C. Beaton, Geraldene N. Codina, and Julie C. Wharton participated in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. Simplican, S., Leader, G., Kosciulek, J., & Leahy, M. (2015). Defining social inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: An ecological model of social networks and community participation. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 38, 18–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2014.10.008
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