For Families

Self-isolation with a special needs child – help!

March 28, 2020

It’s difficult to even start this blog entry. We are all in this together, so let’s start there – neither you nor us are alone in the current situation that the whole world finds itself. We usually feel that most of the parents we work with feel isolated having a special needs child. They might feel alone, misunderstood and anxious. The Covid-19 situation has just made the entire world feel a whirlwind of emotions and we are right there with you.

Apart from staying healthy, the next step is to ensure that we stay calm, considerate and caring towards ourselves, our loved ones and others, as again, we are all in this together. We have received a magnitude of requests for indoor activities, suggestions on structuring the day and how to explain self-isolation to children with special needs, who more often than not crave outdoor activities and open spaces. We are going to try and provide some helpful suggestions, but we want to open this discussion up and please ask you to share your thoughts, creative activities and ideas for other parents around the world.

Firstly, let’s try and imagine how this change is affecting our children – they are, without warning, transition time, visual schedules or practice taken out of their comfort zone completely. There is no one or nothing to blame, we can change the way we react to this though and how we help manage these uncertain times for not only our children, but our entire family too. Your child is probably unsure of the reasons for the change, the way it will be from now on and for how long. Although we wish that we can provide definite answers, we have learnt through this experience that it truly is out of our control – except for keeping the virus from rapidly spreading of course. We definitely can help curb the spread and flatten the curve by applying all necessary precautions that are advised to us.

So, without a definite answer, we can work on coping skills and keeping routine for our children and also, believe it or not, our own sanity. There are some excellent ideas that we would love to share with you – that is good for any unpredictable experience and this current situation definitely fits in that category.

Visual schedules

Yes, we definitely need a daily schedule, where we add structure to the day. We have a great lesson plan that we can send through if you are interested. Let us know if you want us to send this to you by emailing us: [email protected]

The important thing to note here is that a day can become very long if you want to fill every moment with a “teachable” moment. Most of us are not teachers and this is not a natural way of thinking for all of us – how to teach your child for hours every day. That’s why they go to school or therapy, right? The trick here is to remember that even at school, they include various developmental areas, don’t try and do “academics” the whole day – that would make any child hate isolation.

Rather think of what a normal day on a holiday looks like and how I can bring in some concepts that my child struggles with every now and then. We can definitely help think of ideas here – again, email us and let us know if you only want the lesson plan or if you would like some more suggestions.

Self-help skills

Increase the amount of times you add “self-help skills” in your visual schedule and teach your child the importance of washing their hands. Rather overdo it during this time…

Movement activities

Bring in lots of movement activities. Our children are busy throughout the day and being inside will definitely affect their mood, especially if they are not receiving the amount of exercise they are used to. We will include a list of activities at the end of this blog to consider adding in their daily routine.

Mindfulness activities

Do lots of mindfulness activities – this will take your mind off what is going on outside and bring you and your child back to the present moment – spending time together. Some great ideas for mindfulness activities are:

  • Yoga for kids (there are many cute videos online to watch for free)
  • Breathing exercises (you can play an “animal breathing game” here where you ask your child to mimic different animal breathing ways)
  • Mindful walks around the house (your child can let you know, vocally or with pictures, what they noticed during their short walk)

Remember to have fun. When you include activities, think of the tasks that you need to do – whether that is cooking, cleaning, even working on the computer and now turn these into a collaborative activity with your child.

For example, if you are cooking, he or she can help (the task they do will depend on their age and developmental level), but I’m sure most children would love to peel, squeeze or taste some yummy food… or perhaps it’s Friday, which means it’s baking day.

Cleaning, believe it or not, can be fun too. Especially if you include some sensory fun in making bubbles and then playing with this on the table that you will wipe afterwards, for example. Remember to always wash your hands after these activities!

If you are working from home, which most of us need to adapt to at the moment, it might be difficult to “entertain” or occupy your child whilst still needing to send 100 emails and restructure your business to become virtual overnight.

We get it, we really do. This might be a good time to introduce turn-taking with your husband or partner and if that is not a possibility, remember that having “downtime” is absolutely needed for our children and most of the time it’s the most difficult time for them. This means that they need to learn to work and play independently even more.

Now, how do we do this? There are a few tips that we would suggest:

  1. Create a “play station” where you place all your child’s favorite toys and games (that he or she has “mastered”) on. Try and keep the “play station” at the same area (at least in the beginning). There should be simple instructions written out (or with pictures, depending on your child’s age and developmental level) that states what is expected of him or her (for example, “go play”, “quietly”, “all done?”, “pack away” & “go play more”). You can also let your child “tick off” these instructions as he or she goes through each activity.
  2. It’s best to keep activities short and also your instructions. Use gestural “prompts” where you guide your child back to the activity he or she is busy with by pointing and looking at the item.
  3. Change the activities that you place on the “play station” daily, to keep your child motivated and excited to see what they will be doing that day. Keep these activities only for the times where you need to get some work done, this way it is highly desirable for your child during those times and will probably be more effective.

We know it sounds “too good to be true”, but through the years and it has been quite a few, we have seen what consistency and perseverance can do in a family unit.  We promise and we don’t take our promises lightly, that if you implement these strategies and you stick with it, even though your child might seem a bit “unruly” at first, he or she will understand that it is now part of his or her routine.  Our children crave routine and structure. You are in the position now to provide them with this. We will be here every step of the way though.  

AIMS Online has launched during this time, a bit earlier than expected, but we wanted to ensure that our parents are supported.  We also wanted to ensure that we can help other families that are at home, without support and no therapist to help out. We have created a full online program that can help any family with a child with special needs at home.  

It is an affordable way to receive online training, a dedicated therapist that can implement various programs for your child and live supervision in terms of Skype observations and feedback reports.  We are proud to offer this to you during this time of a global crisis. Email us to find out more or to schedule a call with one of our directors: [email protected] 

Here are some useful and free resources that we have carefully selected to help you structure activities at home: 

There are many more websites with excellent ideas, but start with these and let us know how your days are going.  Remember, we are here and we are listening. We can get through anything if we keep close, from a distance.