Parenting a Child with Autism, Developmental, or Intellectual Disabilities during a Global Pandemic
They Definitely Forgot this Chapter in the Parenting Handbook!
Ah, the mythical “parenting handbook” that we all wished we received at our baby-showers. Who hasn’t wished they could quickly look up a how-to guide when their baby starts teething, their toddler has their first nightmare, it’s time to potty-train…all these parenting obstacles that make raising children such an adventure! Well, it’s certain that if there was such a wonderful book, it wouldn’t include how to parent during a pandemic, especially if you have a child that relies on school, services, and supports outside the home to navigate the world as an individual with Autism or another disability.
For those children, many thrive with structure and routine. And that structure has been removed and its very likely the child doesn’t understand why. Add on top that all parents are now “crisis-schooling” and it leads to a stressful environment for all! Though I in no way claim to have all the answers, here are some tips to make it through this time:
Give yourself grace! If all you do each day is feed your children, read them a book, and give them love – you’ve succeeded.
Find a new routine – that works for your family. Here is the thing about routines and consistency: they don’t have to be the same for everyone. Whatever your family structure is, is what you and your child need. Not what someone on Instagram is doing for their family.
Likewise, understand that your children may need different routines. You may have a child who does better with a visual schedule and long structured blocks of time. Another may do better with changing activities every 15 minutes. To figure out what works best for your child, think of the day you have the least struggle. Ask your child’s teacher or special education teacher for help. Reach out to your child’s BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) if they have one. Ask you child what they would like to do first. Think about their medications – some children focus better first thing in the morning and thus this is the time to work on seated activities. Some kids are naturally night-owls and don’t really “wake up” until afternoon.
Don’t be afraid to “set contingencies” – withholding reinforcement until expectation is met. A simple first/then can be helpful for everyone. Instead of fighting over an activity, set the contingency of first work task, then engagement in favorite activity. Then leave the choice to complete the activity in their hand, while blocking access to the “then” activity (like turning off the WiFi).
Make sure that the expectation – such as time attending to a task - you are requesting is reasonable for you child, for the task, and for you. That may mean the child can only work a few minutes at a time before receiving a break. That’s okay! Completing five cycles of first/then where every work task is only 10 minutes still leads to 50 minutes of completed work.
Use visual supports – all over the house! Use pictures if your child cannot read. Ask your child to help select the order of activities. Give transition warnings.
Make time for physical exercise everyday.
Consider if ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy would be appropriate for your child. If your child is struggling with unsafe behaviors, communication, social skills, completing tasks of daily living – then ABA may be an appropriate tool for your family. ABA is funded by most insurance including Medicaid.
Currently, Intercept Health is providing ABA therapy via telehealth and in-person (with CDC guidelines in place) where appropriate. Services are available in Bristol, Wytheville, Roanoke, Richmond, Fredericksburg and the surrounding areas. Call 804-523-6202 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.