This difficult and unpredictable time is incredible challenging, and that is most definitely the case for those with additional needs.
In the trying weeks ahead it is important for everyone to have routine and a sense of control over their immediate surroundings.
This blog entry sets out nine suggestions to help meet the needs of children with disabilities during the latest Covid-19 restrictions – but they will most likely be useful for all children (and adults too!).
1. Do what is manageable for you and your child
Possibly a strange way to start a blog with help and advice, but you know your child better than anyone. Everyone’s needs are different, so trust yourself to do what’s best.
This is a difficult time, don’t over-stretch yourself or your child. Take things day-by-day if you need to.
2. Be consistent and set a predictable structure for the day
Even in ‘normal’ times it’s so important for your child to have a consistent routine that helps them to feel safe and aware of what is happening and will happen next.
A simple way to do that is to break down the tasks that will happen during the day into small chunks of time.
For instance, learning set by your child’s school could be scheduled for a specific time of the day and consistently done at that time of day.
3. Help your child to visualise the structure of the day
To build on tip number two, once you have broken down the day into small chunks of time it’s vital that you help your child to understand what’s on the agenda – so that they get into a routine but also are aware of what’s coming up.
Let your child what is expected of them and when. If they can manage a timetable let them know the timetable for all of the day. Or as much as they can understand at a time, if they cannot manage a timetable, let them know clearly what is happening now.
Pictures and symbols help to give meaning – perhaps create a daily timetable of pictures or drawings to help your child visualise what’s coming next. If your child can read confidently then you could also try a written list.
This will set out a clear beginning and end for each task – it may also help to tick off completed items to clearly define that they have finished.
Items such as the Liquid Cell Timer in Caudwell Children’s Get Sensory packs can help to visually indicate when tasks are complete.
4. Cater to your child’s interests
To help you plan tasks you and your child can engage in, make sure you play to their strengths and focus on their specific interests.
For example, if your child loves messy play then you can count using objects or model language and vocabulary skills by showing your child – i.e. let’s roll the ball through the grass.
On the other hand, if your child has a specific film or TV programme that gets their attention, use that as your starting point. Use pictures or figurines of characters to help them visualise concepts or create activities.
5. Create a ‘work’ space – and consider the sensory input of the environment
Setting up a space that is used for ‘work’ helps to make clear what will take place there. You should also consider the sensory stimuli in this space and tailor it to your child. This is especially helpful for autistic children.
For example; a bright, colourful area that has lots of obvious distractions or bright lights or loud noises might not be conducive for learning. Only put out the equipment or items needed for the task in hand – this will help your child to focus their attention on what is expected of them.
It may take time to build up your child’s understanding that this is a ‘work’ space, so you may find it helpful to start with small, manageable tasks and build things slowly.
To reiterate tip one, do what is manageable.
6. Set aside time for high energy activities
With so many things on hold right now it’s often difficult to get out and burn energy – so it may be helpful to set aside dedicated time each day, or at several points during the day, for movement breaks.
There are lots of resources on YouTube to engage children. Caudwell Children’s Get Sensory packs include lots of items that can be used to create fun and stimulating activities which can help with movement breaks,
Again, it may be helpful to create a visual structure of the movement breaks to help your child understand what activities they will be doing.
7. Set aside time for calming activities
On the flipside, it is also important to do calming activities with your child.
Caudwell Children’s Get Sensory packs include lots of items that can be used to calm and help regulate your child.
8. Be honest with your child
We don’t have all of the answers right now – but it is good to let your child ask questions and try to answer as honestly as possible in a way that is suitable for their age and understanding. For example, you might say something like ‘we have a coronavirus vaccine now and doctors are working hard to give it to everyone’.
Remind your child of what they can do to stay safe in a way that they will understand, for example to help motivate how to wash hands and keep going while singing a song. Try to manage your own worries by talking to others and using calming strategies so that you are able to talk calmly with your child. You can practice calming strategies with your child too – you can use resources in our Get Sensory packs to help with this.
9. Make the most of the services Caudwell Children offers!
The Caudwell Children Autism Service remains open to provide assessment, intervention and support for autistic children and their families. Find out more here.
We’re continuing to run our Short Breaks activity clubs. They offer a two-hour virtual session for disabled children in Staffordshire – giving them chance to explore their interests through interactive play, make new friends and provide a break for parents and carers. When we are unable to arrange face-to face sessions due to current Covid-19 restrictions we offer these remotely and provide resources to help your child participate in the activities. Book a place here.
We will also continue our Digital Skills Employability Programme virtually during the restrictions – helping prepare young people with autism to the world of work, equip them with cutting-edge digital skills, supporting them into further education, apprenticeships and employment, and working with employers to make UK workplaces more inclusive. Apply here.
We’re also continuing to help transform the lives of disabled children right across the UK with a range of support and equipment. There’s lots of information about the specialised services we provide for disabled children and their families here.
You can apply for one of our Get Sensory packs here.