What does quarantine mean for children with special needs?

During this time of uncertainty, many parents feel as though they are not in control as we are faced with a great deal of change.

For parents of children with special needs, things may feel especially stressful. Progress is hard-won for children with special needs.

Here are ways you can avoid the “COVID-19 slide:”

  • Maintain close communication with your child’s teacher and team.
  • Read to your child many times per day. Research published in Pediatrics proved reading to young children improves their attention and decreases hyperactivity and aggression. It can shape cognitive as well as social and emotional development, and the power of parental attention helps children flourish and makes parenting more enjoyable.
  • Review your child’s most recent IEP progress report:
    • Label each goal as either a ladder goal, with each skill building on the next, or as a pie goal, with each benchmark a part of the pie of each skill.
    • Our brains like practice to promote development of automatic skills. For the ladder goals, work on advancing your child from the skill in the benchmark met to the skill in the next benchmark in the sequence. For the pie goal, work on each of the benchmarks simultaneously.
  • Set up a workspace: My neighbor raised seven amazing children and, as a young mother, I would look from my kitchen into their home and see their dining room was a sacred workspace, with the children gathered there together to study.
    • Arrange group and individual workspaces. They should be well lit and include all necessary materials.
    • Adopt a “little red schoolhouse” approach, with older siblings helping younger ones, and pets sitting at their feet, listening to reading.
    • Occasionally play calming music in the background.
  • Develop a routine: Establish a routine that closely mirrors your child’s routine at school. This is important for all children and adolescents, particularly kids who have significant challenges with communication and behavior. Consult your children’s therapists and teachers for visual schedules as well as ways to expend energy throughout the day.
    • Follow the morning routine you always followed, without the rush out the door. This includes eating breakfast and dressing for school (“PJ mornings” can indicate it is the weekend).
    • Follow the school schedule as closely as possible. This includes having recess, snacks and lunch around the same time your child has these breaks. Your child has had many months of adjusting to this rhythm, and it will be best to stick to it.
    • Engage in a mindfulness in education approach, including having a morning meeting, setting intentions for the day and taking calming breaks.
    • Follow the same rules as in school. Your child can develop posters that mimic the rules in their classroom, including the behavior systems (i.e., the stoplight system).
    • Create daily checklists for work to be done and allow privileges based on accomplishing the tasks.
  • Computers, curriculum and equipment: There is a have/have not divide: Millions of children remain without either home broadband or a computer. Efforts to close this gap have increased dramatically with COVID-19. If your child needs access, please contact your school district for donation services. Engage your student in e-learning. The Illinois State Board of Education has resources for all students here. Ask your child’s teacher for the names of the curriculum your child is using and see if it’s available for home use. Ask your school to provide you with your child’s assistive technology (high or low tech), including a pencil grips, weighted vests or line readers.

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