1 in 5 kids learn and think differently. Now we know how remote learning has affected them.

3 min readMay 26, 2021


Remote learning has been a serious challenge for families. And we know it’s been harder for some families than others. For example, students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities have all faced widening gaps since the start of the pandemic.

At the beginning of 2021, we predicted that this would be the year of inclusive learning. With the spring semester winding down, we wanted to know how this year has affected the families of students with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia.

So in April, we conducted a nationally representative study of 1,500 parents across the U.S. We spoke to families of neurotypical children and families whose kids have learning and thinking differences. With an entire pandemic school year almost behind us, we wanted to know: How have they been doing?

The results are striking. Academically, emotionally, and financially, the families of kids who learn and think differently are struggling.


Sixteen percent of the parents of neurotypical kids told us their children have fallen behind in their studies. But among the parents of kids who learn and think differently, the number was twice as high. And 44 percent of parents whose kids have IEPs told us that their child’s legal right to accommodations has been abandoned.


These changes are taking an emotional toll on kids. Almost half of the parents of kids who learn and think differently told us that their children have had high to extreme levels of school-based anxiety since the start of the pandemic — more than double the rate among typical kids. And students with learning and thinking differences are about three times more likely to have had depression.

The stress that kids are feeling has been affecting them physically and academically. Kids who learn and think differently are nearly twice as likely as neurotypical kids to have had physical symptoms of stress. And they’re also about twice as likely to have avoided class.


It’s no surprise that the families of these students are investing more resources to keep their kids on track. Almost twice as many parents of kids who learn and think differently told us that extra spending on academics has put a major financial burden on their family this year.

These numbers are staggering. In the United States, 1 in 5 kids have learning or thinking differences. That’s a huge proportion of families and students who are under extreme stress during remote learning. And that’s in addition to other types of stress they may be facing due to factors like race and language-learner status.

When the next school year starts, we’re likely to see more schools open up for in-person learning. But the effects of the pandemic are deep. Kids won’t simply “bounce back” on their own.

That’s why now is the time to reimagine learning. We urgently need to invest in tools like teacher training and practices like social-emotional learning. Understood is supporting teachers with innovative distance learning tools and working with partners, including Blue Engine, to build a more inclusive educational experience for all students.

Just as importantly, we need to remember that reentry might be hard for some kids, especially those with learning and thinking differences. While many adults may feel a sense of relief as things open up, lots of kids will be feeling the stress of even more change.

This school year has been hard for many. The data now shows that it has created a major burden for the families of kids who learn and think differently. Although there are more changes to come, Understood will continue to be there for them with free resources and help.

And as we start to define our “new normal,” let’s work to build systems that support all children and families, so every kid can thrive.