Families across the nation are being tested to find their “new normal” as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and more programs and organizations close their doors. Families of those with disabilities are experiencing this on an even more complex scale. Various services are being disrupted or delivered in a new way: learning online as schools close, navigating therapies virtually, managing social and behavioral skill acquisition virtually, and coping with a lack of respite from these daily challenges.
Change in routine alone is a large stressor for people with disabilities. Add the uncertainty of when they will be able to return to a regular routine and the change is that much more difficult to adapt to. Change in routine undoubtedly leads to change in social interaction, which for some, can be detrimental to the hard work put into practicing and learning social skills.
For others, much like for the rest of us, it is sad to lose connections with friends and fellow students or colleagues. School or work locations are likely closed, resulting in a large amount of unstructured free time for parents and caregivers to fill throughout the day. This also means caregivers and parents are unable to access breaks from their caregiving duties, which have likely doubled.
Below are some ideas for families to engage in powerful learning activities together while also finding time to take a break and recharge.
Try an engaging sensory craft.
Putting energy and focus into a craft or project together creates moments to practice language, fine motor skills, following directions, self-expression, routines, reading, and even math. When you’re done, use the project to help you find some calmness or joy. Inclusive Teach provides 150 sensory projects for families to do at home.
Join a sensory-friendly storytime.
The Adoption Exchange is hosting a weekly sensory-friendly storytime—an activity for all ages and anyone with sensory processing sensitivities—through Zoom. Work this into your routine for a consistent literature boost during the day. If you are able, use this as a chance for respite and take some time for yourself in another room. Try guided meditation (available on a variety of free apps and YouTube), or try breathing exercises for a great way to quickly reset and refresh.
Don’t be afraid to use your outdoor resources.
With spring upon us, that sunshine is pretty inviting. While following social distancing guidelines, you can still find a secluded spot in a park or step into your backyard. A daily nature check or scavenger hunt can provide your child with the opportunity to practice problem solving, language skills, gross motor skills, vision skills, and following directions. This also gives you and your family an opportunity to soak up some Vitamin D. Experts agree that exposure to the outdoors can be an extremely effective way to elevate moods. Put time outdoors on a weekly or daily calendar to keep routines consistent.
Take a virtual field trip.
While the conventional field trip may be out of the question, a virtual field trip or community outing isn’t! Virtual School Activities provides a list of virtual museum or zoo tours, as well as live webcams all over the world. Use this opportunity to walk and talk through the same rituals and processes of a community outing (buying a bus ticket, finding your route, paying for admission, how to act when there, etc.). Try adding a video call if possible so you can “go out with a friend!”
Look for new ways to learn at home.
With schools and work closed, interacting socially with friends, classmates, or coworkers is limited. For some this can be detrimental to progress made learning and acquiring social skill sets. These resources (here and here) offer a chance to practice these skills virtually. During this time, if your child is able to navigate independently, try catching up on a book for pleasure—or even tackling some of those household chores that are hard to accomplish when you are tending to caregiving tasks.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Though parents and caregivers are not new to rapidly adapting for their loved ones, times such as these are exceptionally hard and unnerving. Make sure that you are finding time to recharge and recoup. If you are experiencing trouble regulating your own stress and fears, do not hesitate to reach out for professional help. AARP has a hotline for caregivers if you have questions about how to approach different challenges, or simply need someone to talk with. You can also find support with Colorado Crisis Services.