How parents of children with special needs can cope with the lockdown

Akila Vaidyanathan of Amaze Charitable Trust   | Photo Credit: K Ananthan

This was originally published on The Hindu – APRIL 08, 2020

April 2 was World Autism Awareness Day. Akila Vaidyanathan of Amaze Charitable Trust shares ways to make the lockdown productive and less stressful for persons in the autism spectrum and their caregivers

The lockdown would have disrupted the order and structure that children with special needs require. Bring that back.

A certain amount of structure and proceeding in a predictable planned manner helps persons with intellectual disabilities to function better. Where there are major changes to this structure or schedule, they may find it difficult to adapt initially. The solution is to create a new routine that is comfortable for the child .

Use visuals and videos to explain about the Coronavirus and its hazards as well as the personal safety procedures to be followed like hand washing, mask, social distancing … The child may need to be taught these new habits.

Create a new schedule at home and include a comfortable flow of household chores, creative activities, indoor fitness routines…

Ask them to help with chores in the house | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Make a list of…

Recreational activities such as watching TV, surfing the Internet, art, music, dance, cooking, gardening…

Indoor physical activities like yoga, brain gym, Occupational Therapy

Important skill goals the child has at therapy like target words or sentences in speech therapy, academic goals, or literacy goals

Household chores the child will complete or participate willingly

Things that helps the child relax like a foot massage or pedicure or some relaxing music, exercise, or smells

Once all this is in place, put down the time slots for what you have planned and the people who will supervise or be with the child to complete the activities

Offer positive reinforcement

When they cope well or complete their task, boost their self esteem by taking photographs or videos of their achievements. Ensure they have enough breaks and a “chill down space” at home where they can spend some alone time and relax or calm down.

Seek help from therapists instead of looking up generic content online…

Very young children may be undergoing speech or physio therapy or occupational therapy. Older children may be learning in remedial centres or going to special schools. While the parents may not have the equipment or skills needed to implement the whole programme at home, certainly with some adaptations and online support from the therapist or teachers, they can work on their child’s individual goals. The best thing is to reach out to the specific teacher or therapist for support rather than looking up generic content online which may or may not be appropriate for their child.

Caregivers must take care of their own physical and mental health

There will be substantial stress for the parent or caregivers as their work and responsibilities may have gone up threefold. They have to deal with household chores, take care of their child and other dependent family members and complete work-related assignments. They may also be dealing with financial strain as they juggle time, money and energy. They must…

Prioritise urgent and important work each day and have a plan to complete those. Other tasks can be done if one has the time or energy

Have regular family meetings to ensure everyone understands their responsibilities and supports the person with special needs consistently

Reach out to the resource persons, teachers or therapist online who may be able to plan sessions for their child

Take care of their own physical well being. Yoga or meditation for 15 minutes at least twice a day if possible might help

Mind their own mental health. It may be good to be in touch with a counsellor or mentor parent online to understand and implement coping strategies .

Yoga or some form of exercise also helps | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Believe that your children are more resilient than you think, and you can learn from them

Believe in your child’s resilience. For children with special needs, social distancing is not a new concept — society at large keeps a distance from them and their families. Hence they have their own coping strategies and positive attitude towards such events and we can learn from them to take one day at a time, enjoy the moment and simple pleasures

Look at this as an opportunity to understand your child better. In fact you can also re-evaluate the goals for your child and see if you want to make these goals more relevant to the times and functional to your child. For example you may now want to add housekeeping, indoor fitness activities and technology-based skills as goals.

Keep calm, keep connected, and be positive. Stay safe and healthy. This too will pass.


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