For Parents: Stay Strong!
You are not alone during these challenging times.
As a stepparent of a developmentally delayed son with autism, I don’t mind telling you I am struggling right now. The network of services we used to rely on to manage his care and education, from at-home ABA therapy to schooling to one blissful week of sleepaway summer camp - it’s all changed. There are no easy answers to this emotionally and financially unsustainable situation. Every child and every family situation is unique but you are not alone. I personally believe there is a special place in heaven for all of us “essential workers” caring for special needs kids and adults right now. For what it’s worth, here are some things that have been working for our family as we juggle work, homeschool, and our sweet boy’s care.
The Benefits of Schedules
Consistent routines around school, exercise, play, and sleep really help create structure during the day. Plan a schedule around the times your child is in online learning, and also include the times you need to work, prepare meals, or recharge for yourself. Once you have your basic daily timeline mapped out, plug in the activities you know your child can participate in independently during the times you will need a break. I have found that my stepson can sit happily for 20 minutes working on a puzzle, so I save that for when we really need it.
As best as possible, try to keep up with the services that are available to you. Special education law has not been suspended. Interventions such as reading instruction or speech language therapy may continue. It has not been easy to juggle work with my stepson’s online school schedule. He has missed a few of his classes and therapies because of that. And honestly, sometimes the struggle of getting him to sit still for a video conference with the therapist requires energy I just don’t have. But I know his long-term growth requires that we stay on track, trying to build consistently on the skills he has. We don’t want his progress to stall.
Build Skills at Home
I can always rely on Nick Junior to keep my stepson quiet and occupied. And often that is the best I can do. But I am finding that our home is full of opportunities to teach essential life skills that will help him become more independent. He now makes his bed every morning, something we didn’t always do when rushing to catch the school bus on time. While cooking, I challenge him to get me the right amounts of ingredients I need. Observing his virtual lessons has shown me ways I can reinforce communication skills in all kinds of ways at home.
Communicate with the School
The experts at school have been so helpful with tips, motivation, and advice from everything from how to manage challenging behaviors during virtual lessons to how to talk about a death in the family. We feel very lucky that we have been able to communicate concerns and questions to the staff at school. Their expertise helps us coordinate an at-home plan for progress while in-person therapies are suspended.
It sounds crazy and a little cliché, but gratitude helps. In my worst moments, I try to remember all the things we have to be grateful for. We are healthy and safe for now. We can sleep at night. There is love and happiness amidst the chaos and noise and constant demands for attention.
I try to relish small victories, like the little ways my stepson is becoming more independent at home, or the joy he gets from being here with us all day.
Most of us are not at our best right now, so be gentle with yourself if you don't always handle challenging behaviors with patience and grace. Forgive your spouse, and family, and teachers who are all doing their best in a difficult situation. I try to find moments throughout the day to release some of the tension, whether that means taking a deep breath, watching a funny cat video, playing upbeat music and dancing it out, or just staring mindlessly at a plant. I have also discovered the value of what I call the Quarantine Scream. It doesn’t solve anything, but it lets off some steam without hurting anyone.
Stay strong! You’re doing a wonderful job!
A message from Harbor School
We want our Harbor School families to know that we are here for you and want to support you during these challenging days. We cannot begin to imagine how difficult this situation must be for your child and your family. We will continue to post monthly school articles which we hope will provide useful information to assist you as you navigate this new reality and its impact on your daily life.
Please know that we are here if you need us. Take care!
From all of us at the Harbor School
Principal-Harbor School, Eatontown, NJ