Nobody likes big changes to their routine but some people need structure, rules and black and white concepts more than others. This may sound very familiar if you are the parent or carer of a child with additional needs.
Over the past few months, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all had to adjust our expectations and ways of living. Routines have been turned upside down and our regular schedules has been replaced with, in many cases, confusion, abundant juggling and working through ours and our children’s anxiety.
Home school for many special needs children has been tremendously challenging for them and in turn for their parents. When school doesn’t look, sound or smell like school, this can cause enormous confusion and stress for a number of the young people I work with. In addition, parents report having to be by their sides full time in order for anything to be accomplished. For this reason and many others, parents the world over (including Australia wide) breathed a sigh of relief when Governments announced that schools would return. It may have sounded like life would be going back to normal. Except, as we continue to learn – it isn’t.
With this in mind, I’ve prepared some tips around how we can best prepare the children who need consistency the most, to cope. These tips are aimed at helping you to navigate the inevitable continued changes that we will see implemented in schools, public spaces and the community as Governments world over navigate ways to keep us all safe:
1) SOCIAL STORIES :
In situations like these, there are a myriad of uses for social stories and they can of course be made personal to deal with exactly what your child needs to understand, depending on their current challenges. If you haven’t already, it is a great idea to find a social story (there are many good ones online) that explains corona virus and why we are having to be so careful all the time. This is also a good way to introduce the ideas of the fact that things are going to continue to change. Social stories can also be used to navigate specific situations such as why certain activities are cancelled for the time being or why schools or public spaces are putting in place specific safety measures. Social stories work best if they are specific to your child’s circumstances so a story that introduces the concept of COVID and then details what is staying the same and what is changing within your child’s routine can be very powerful.
2) UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGES AT SCHOOL:
Every school will be following guidelines that are similar but individual practices may differ. It is a good idea to communicate with your child’s school to understand what changes are in place and to find a visual way to go through these with your child as soon as possible now that the return to school has occurred. It is important to be very specific with the school about what your child usually needs help with and therefore what changes they will individually notice eg: if they need assistance to tie their shoes and they come undone, can they still get help for that and how will they know to ask?
3) VISUAL SCHEDULES OF ROUTINE :
Visual schedules that show the order of activities at certain times of day are a great idea for children with additional needs even when we aren’t dealing with COVID. Some children will respond well to a schedule for the whole day and others will need it broken down into smaller sections. If nothing else, these schedules in and of themselves can become relied upon by your child to explain visually what it is they can expect from the day ahead. If your child’s timetable is changing, ask the school or special activity director to please send you an updated version so you can go through it with your child the day before so that they know what to expect. Other places a visual schedule may be useful is for the morning and evening routines.
4) PHOTO FAMILY CALENDAR:
For the majority of families, daily schedules and activities are unrecognisable from what they were a few short months ago. It is highly likely that children within a family may be returning to different activities on different days and some of these will be online and some face to face. Parents will also most likely be returning to work slowly and things may not be as predictable as before in many areas of a child’s life. These include who is taking them to school, who is attending their activities or therapy with them; when are certain people at home and who is at what activity when. This is confusing for many of us but for a child with additional needs, this can become extremely anxiety provoking. One idea is to have a weekly planner and have photos of each family member placed next to where they will be on each day and at what time. Whilst this may well change from week to week, it is something you can go through with your child each night ahead of the next day.
While you may already have some of these strategies in place in your home, consistency is key at times of uncertainty and change like we are collectively experiencing at present. All processes which involve consistency at this time will likely help your child to process things, calm any underlying anxiety and to make them feel as though they understand their reality and your expectations. There is no doubt that this period in our lives of uncertainty has been extremely unsettling. However, parents can use this time to teach their child that change in life is inevitable and by demonstrating flexibility, we can hope that our children’s resilience will strengthen which can only work in your child’s favour, aiding their development as thriving young people.
Ariella Lew is a highly qualified paediatric nurse and Director of Kids on Track Consultancy, a private practice based in Melbourne. Ariella consults both locally and overseas, providing expert advice and management strategies for families requiring support with their childs behavior, sleep and toilet training and family dynamics as well as providing strategies and advice for families of children with special needs.
Find out more at Facebook: @kidsontrackconsultancy or contact Ariella directly on info@
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