Coping with Back-to-School Challenges for Students with Special Needs during the COVID-19 Pandemic
I am the stepparent of a developmentally delayed 16-year-old diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum Disorder, and while it is not easy in the best of times, right now, it is a struggle. There are no easy answers to this emotionally and financially unsustainable situation. But you are not alone. For what it’s worth, here are some things that have been working for our family as we cope with the beginning of an unprecedented school year.
The minute I start to feel stressed, my stepson can tell, and his behavior mirrors it back two-fold. So in our family, we have learned to model calm behavior that projects love, support, and confidence that we will all be okay. When I notice my stepson acting in negative ways, I stop, take a breath, and calmly reassure him that he is a good boy and we are all fine. This helps to lower everyone’s anxiety.
Keep a daily calendar with each day’s therapies, Zoom classes, and meetings so you know where you have to be during each hour -- and when you get a break! Set up a binder or folder to keep all the paperwork organized. Keep your child's special education documentation, meeting notices, and IEPs in sequential order so you can reach for any of them at a moment’s notice.
Maintain a Schedule
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. I have found that sticking to the same morning routine every day, even on weekends and holidays, helps my stepson ease into the school day with less fuss.
As much as possible, try to keep up with the services and one-on-one therapies that are available to you. Ask questions of the therapists and be as involved as you can. It has not been easy to juggle work with my stepson’s online school schedule. But I know his long-term growth requires that we stay on track, trying to build consistently on the skills he has.
Build Skills at Home
I have learned a lot by participating in the remote therapies available. I am not an expert by any means, but I am finding lots of ways to help build skills at home. Our home is full of opportunities to teach essential life skills that will help my stepson become more independent. He now makes his bed every morning, and (sloppily) makes his own sandwich for lunch. Observing his virtual lessons has shown me ways I can reinforce communication, fine motor skills, and gross motor coordination in all kinds of ways while we are together at home.
Communicate with School
The experts at school have been so helpful with tips, motivation, and advice. 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.
Request a Tour of The Gateway School
Since 1980, RKS Associates has been a leader in providing the needs of special education students and helping children grow to their fullest potential. Each of our schools seeks to empower each student with skills for life, work, and recreation; we believe that every individual possesses the dignity and potential to contribute to a better world.
As part of the RKS Associates Network of schools in New Jersey, the goal at the Gateway School is to assist all students in becoming as independent as possible and help them get ready for the future. Located in Carteret, NJ, we serve individuals throughout Central and Northern New Jersey. Contact us at our main office at 732.541.4400 with any questions or schedule a private tour of the Gateway School today.
Chris Hoye, Principal-The Gateway School of Carteret, NJ