The coronavirus has disrupted all of our lives, but the population this disruption may be impacting the most are children and individuals with special needs. Children with disabilities rely heavily on routine to function successfully throughout their day. For many families, a season of quarantine is being met with extraordinary difficulties in behaviors and meltdowns as they try to understand why life suddenly looks so different.
The season of coronavirus makes it both more challenging and more important than ever for therapists to care and remain a vital part of their patient’s lives. The challenges are real as many of the patients that we work with are medically fragile and the potential risk of exposure to this virus could be costly. Therapy is often based in a school or clinic setting and when school is closed, and the clinic holds risk of contamination, one of their greatest supports is often eliminated. Despite these challenges, the need for ingenuity and creativity to step into our patients’ lives and walk this road with them from distance is extremely important.
Teletherapy is the number one resource to keep treatment as consistent and safe as possible during COVID-19. Not only does it allow us to continue addressing therapy goals, but it carries some unique benefits that outpatient or school-based therapy often does not allow for. Teletherapy allows therapists who are accustomed to addressing goals outside the home, a window into the environment where they use it the most. It also provides an opportunity to equip parents to “become the hands of the therapist,” a huge benefit for carry over of home exercise programs and family buy in.
Carol Gray, the creator of Social Stories, states, “Social Stories are a great tool to help us manage difficult or confusing situations. It’s a way to give information about those situations, including what is expected or what might happen, in a supportive and reassuring way.” Social Stories are an excellent tool to simply and effectively explain to children who have difficulty understanding why all school, appointments, and trips in public have suddenly ceased and why hand washing for 20 seconds and standing six feet distance from neighbors are new strictly enforced rules. Examples of social stories explaining the coronavirus can be found on carolgraysocialstories.com.
As therapists, a significant way that we can help our families through the coronavirus is by helping them survive cabin fever. One of
the greatest gifts you can give the families you work with is the
gift of structure. Children with special needs often thrive on well communicated routines. In times of chaos and transition, it is vital
to help give handles on their new normal. Help your clients design a routine that will work best for their family and provide the sensory and movement input the child needs to stay regulated throughout the day. Suggest the visual/picture schedule be posted where the child can see it and use it daily. The simple act of crossing things off a list, even if it’s just eating breakfast and getting changed, makes you feel productive and positive at the end of a day being locked inside.
Home Exercise Programs:
With a lot of time at home, parents will be looking for ideas to keep their kiddos occupied. This is the perfect time to reinforce the importance of home exercise programs. I often use the metaphor of getting abs: If your goal is to get abs and you go to the gym once a week, your success is unlikely. But if you complete a daily core workout, your likelihood of success is much higher. It’s the same with therapy. We will see the greatest success when parents are addressing the same goals every day at home that we are in our sessions. Make home exercise programs simple to complete, fun for the child, and effective for the greatest commitment.
Lastly, above all else, don’t forget the heart. Check in with your clients and caregivers on how they are doing. Take the time to listen. Help support them wherever you can. This crisis is deeply effecting many of our families emotionally, financially, and physically. Use your therapeutic use of self to walk the journey alongside them, letting them know they are not alone.