Updated: Aug 26, 2021
For children on the spectrum or children who require special learning needs, Covid has been an extraordinarily challenging time. With schools having shifted online and a massive disruption to routine as parents, we may be at a loss for managing troubling behaviour.
Hats off to all our parents and families coping during this time. We want you to know that we see you, and we know that you are doing the best you can with what you know. We know that children on the spectrum thrive on routine and predictability. We understand that it is difficult to explain to a child that is non-verbal why they cannot go to school or why they have to wear a mask when they’re out and about. These can undoubtedly lead to stressful situations for both parent and child.
With schedules continuing to change overnight and a decrease in support from therapy, we’ve come up with some ways you can help your child.
1. Mirror your child’s school day at home.
In general, the holidays are often a disruptive time for children on the spectrum. When schools shut down, parents have to find alternative ways to “fill” their child’s day. Some children may not appreciate the break in routine, and this may cause parents to see an increase in challenging behaviours.
We know that children on the spectrum seek familiarity. One strategy we parents can utilise is to create a daily schedule that almost mimics your child’s original school day. So, snack time is at the “correct” hour, followed by physical activity and, say, lunch. Instead of creating a brand-new schedule, your child has to follow; you’ve mirrored a schedule that they already are attuned to.
If you notice your child is displaying resistance when moving from hour to hour, make sure that they can anticipate the next activity. Children on the spectrum thrive when they “know” what’s coming next. Display a visual schedule with written words to see it often to “remind” themselves of what is happening next. You can also give them choices like “do you want to play inside or outside today?” or “would you like to play with legos or do some reading”. it gives your child agency and control over their day, which they find very comforting.
2. Remind your child they’re doing Good!
You may be seeing a significant regression in challenging behaviours or an increase in tantrums. Your child is experiencing a very stressful situation, and they often do not have the vocabulary to communicate this to you. It is difficult for everyone.
You can use auditory reminders, such as timers, to help them transition from one activity to the next. Make sure you are reinforcing good behaviours and not enabling undesired ones. We know that many parents have had to take on the role of being solely responsible for their child’s learning and emotional health without the usual support from early intervention programmes and various therapies while also managing their stresses and working from home.
These intervention roles support our children’s lives in a multitude of ways. Parents can see this as an opportunity to create and reinforce new goals such as getting dressed without help, cooking together, drawing a picture, or writing letters to loved ones.
3. Screen time is not a means of distraction!
Yes, now, with remote learning, we’re on our iPads and computers more than we like. Not all screen time is terrible, and not all screen time is good. Finding a balance between both can be difficult, and we understand that. The idea is to make screen time intentional.
We recommend having fixed times on the iPad or computed and in limited capacities. As a parent, making it clear that iPad time or computer time is used during specific lessons, or even during free play, giving your child other options instead of an iPad or the computer. Things like watching movies are designated for the sofa and in the living space after dinner are strategies you can use to create intent rather than dependency. Managing a child with special needs during the pandemic is undoubtedly a very demanding task of any parent or caregiver. It is essential as a family; we find ways to look after ourselves by eating, sleeping well and doing things that we genuinely enjoy.
Make sure you stay in touch with your support networks and child’s schools regardless of how well or not things are going. Your child on the spectrum does enjoy social interaction, so if you’re working from home, try to create times in the day where you’re one on one with each other, screen-free and just playing a small game or talking about things.
If your child requires specialised attention, we suggest that you seek out in-person intervention at home. Do also ask for a parent training model to equip you with tools to manage intervention at home. Remember that you are doing the best you can and that the global situation is constantly changing.
Till next time, stay positive!