According to Kathrine Peereboom, mother of three severely autistic boys and founder of Spectrum Support, a leading charity focused on providing autism awareness, support, education and training – parents all over the country are working from home and isolated with kids with autism.
“Parents who have school-aged children with additional needs across the country, have now taken on new roles within their homes. For those fortunate to be in employment or running their own business, life is now more challenging and complex.”
Kathrine has prepared some tips for families across the country on how to make working from home and isolating at home with kids on the spectrum easier.
These tips involve inventive coping mechanisms such as – using your car as an office, taking calls in the laundry, using the mute button regularly!
Create a schedule
Creating a schedule not only provides structure for your child but it helps maintain stability of a routine which they have at school. Setting up your day to accommodate office hours, virtual meetings and returning calls is very important. If I am required to take an important call, I will ask my husband to watch the kids and as my older boys can vocal stim all day long. I will opt to jump in the car instead of the bedroom. If hubby is not home, I arrange for an activity that I know will keep the kids quieter. These include a swim in the pool, taking them for a drive or watching some cartoons on tv.
Replying to emails, creating presentations and other work requiring higher levels of concentration, I tend to respond to once the boys are asleep for the evening and I can think clearly.
If you have an employer, just be sure to have some type of arrangement with them and manage expectations. Communication right now is more important than ever.
Plan for interruptions
The phone rings and of course the child who has played contently for the past hour now becomes, hungry, needs/wants something or they are getting into things they shouldn’t. Making a habit of using the mute button, could stop you from constantly having to apologise to your boss or clients. If I am working with someone new I will always let them know at the beginning of the virtual meeting or call that they may hear the boys in the background and that they are autistic. My child’s wellbeing is always a priority and I will end any call with apologies and reschedule if required.
Some days your beautifully planned schedule will just need to be placed on hold. If they have had a bad night’s sleep, if they are feeling anxious with all of the new changes, had a meltdown or feeling emotional or overwhelmed, on new medication, etc – just roll with it. Focus on them and getting them back into being themselves with activities they enjoy. Homeschooling can wait for a few hours or even a few days.
Separate being a parent from your business role
As parents, you know your children best. When they are most likely to be full of energy and when they need some downtime and use that to your advantage. Being able to focus on each role completely will provide satisfaction and you know you’ll be giving each task your undivided attention.
If there is an important meeting, try to schedule it in advance and work with your partner to supervise the kids. For single parents enlisting the help of a family member or support worker may be a potential option. Please note that each state currently has different rules about having family over to your home, so if you’re unsure reach out to the appropriate authorities to avoid hefty fines.
Creating a workspace is also a wonderful option if you can. Closing the door allows you to disengage from the house and not worry about the messy kitchen or that the beds haven’t been made.
For parents in a similar position to me, my three boys are busy, noisy and constantly keep my husband and I on our toes. For visibility and safety we work from our dining table and often take turns to attend to the boys needs to ensure we fulfil our jobs for the day. If it can wait till tonight, it generally does and in the quiet it takes 5 minutes to write that email as opposed to four hours of up and down.
Bonus – We get to play and learn alongside the boys like never before. They are teaching us new things every day and it’s so rewarding.
Talk to your child’s educator for examples
Can we just take a moment to appreciate teachers!!
Communicating with your children’s school, teachers, therapists, etc, will provide insight as to what strategies and techniques they are successfully using to get the best out of your child’s day. Learn about what the daily routine is for them. What time do they break for recess and lunch and details about where they are in their education. No parent wants their child’s education and progress to stop or regress so please speak with the key people to make sure you’re comfortable with the lessons you need to provide.
Ask for whatever tools you need from them or to purchase. If you have consumables in your NDIS plan this may cover the cost. Consider visuals, PODD, AAC Devices, LAMP, Proloquo2Go for some examples and don’t forget to reach out to some of the wonderful parents in social media groups too.
Take ‘parental breaks’ to remain sane!
Yesterday I needed to take a drive just to get a break and stay composed. Even in lockdown essential service providers such as support workers and carers are able to assist you in home. My advice is, don’t be afraid to use it if you need to!
Selfcare, being supportive with your partner and knowing when things are becoming overwhelming are signs you need support for you! While stress relief is different for everyone, find what works for you and do it daily!
Exercise, singing, dancing, lying down, meditation, watching TV, cooking, gardening, a glass of wine, a quiet cuppa. It doesn’t matter what it is, just remember to make yourself a priority every single day.
One final note: BE KIND TO YOURSELF
“Life is not easy right now and you are doing the best you can. There are days that are going to knock you down and days that will make you proud. No matter what type of day it is, stay connected and have adult conversations about anything and nothing. If you feel you need more support than you are currently receiving then be brave and make that phone call,” Kathrine said.