Special Needs in the Time of COVID-19
Updated: Apr 13
If your child has special needs of any sort, you are likely experiencing a great deal of anxiety right now. Maybe your child is on the autism spectrum and their routine and therapies are disrupted. Maybe your child was doing better with their speech and now has been without speech therapy for several weeks. Maybe your child has complex medical needs and you are a frequent flier in the ER- and now you have to worry your child will be exposed to the coronavirus in a place they need to go.
No matter the type of special need, your child is likely not getting the services they need right now, or, if they are getting services, they are getting services via telehealth which may or may not be as effective for your child as face to face therapy. Many school districts are not serving IEPs at all, leaving kids with special needs even more behind.
I don’t have a magic wand to fix this. I’d love one- get on that, fairy godmother- but I don’t have one. But here are some things you can do that may make your child’s (and your!) life easier:
1.) Think about routines.
Does your child love them or hate them? Does your child like lists and assignments or get overwhelmed? Your kid has unique needs- don’t feel compelled to follow a lovely color coded schedule if it isn’t good for your kid. Likewise, you can opt your child out of Zoom classroom sessions if they don’t help. I’m seeing families do a variety of things to accommodate their child during this time: everything from a checklist that kids can do at their leisure, to a set in stone schedule. You know your child best-figure out what would work and get their buy in.
2.) Reach out to teachers.
Ask them to prioritize their assignments so you know what is actually important for your child to do. Ask the teachers to be clearer if your child needs clarity. I’ve seen emails from teachers that say “Ideally, you would be reading for 30min-1 hour a day” only to have a fairly literal kid interpret that as “well, I don’t HAVE to read.”
3.) Let your kid direct some of their schoolwork.
If they have to write about something let them write about MineCraft if that will get them to do the writing assignment. Don’t insist they read Canterbury Tales if they prefer sci-fi. Your kid can do some research watching YouTube videos- but then ask your them to check the sources. If your kid wants to learn Russian, let them do it via Duolingo. If it is learning, let them do it.
4.) If your kid isn’t able to self direct and you are working too much to direct their learning, give yourself permission to let go.
Try to engage your child in something related to learning, but go easy on yourself- maybe a nature documentary is enough today. Or maybe have the day's activities can be art related or focused on an iPad app.
5.) Don’t neglect your child’s physical and sensory needs.
Your kid likely has recess and gym during school days and at least walks from class to class (and in some high schools, that's a lot of stair climbing!). Make sure your kid gets up and moves! If you have sensory tools at home, encourage your child to use them daily.
6.) If at all possible, have your child keep working with their providers.
That may mean doing telehealth. I don’t love telehealth, as a therapist, but it is better than nothing. You may alter the schedule in regards to how often or when you see providers, but keeping up these routines and relationships up will help your child maintain the work they did before we sheltered-in-place, and help them to keep growing.
Know that your kid may regress some during this time. It isn’t your fault. It isn’t the schools’ fault or anyone’s fault. This is an unbelievable and terrible situation.
I think back to when I was a teen and hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I was living in Houston with my parents. My mom was a school nurse and her school grew by 200 overnight. 200 traumatized middle schoolers. There were fights and there was overcrowding and nothing went as it was ‘supposed’ to that year.
There was a new normal that had to be established. The stories she came home with were intense. In time, things normalized. But the time it took to do so was measured in months and years, not days or weeks.
This is the same. Things are intense. They are hard. You are fighting for a new normal. It will come. In the meantime, hunker down, do what you can and give yourself and your child grace.
Written by Katie Jo Glaves, LMFT, CMHS
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