When schools closed their doors, change transpired rather quickly and without much warning, leaving many families thinking “What’s going to happen to my child’s education or school services?” – and an even scarier thought, “What’s going to happen to my child’s skills and progress during this time??” This is often a worry for parents during a typical school year, as the long summer break approaches. Some children qualify for Extended School Year (ESY), while others do not - and what is being offered this summer varies for everyone. Regardless, summer during the pandemic may look quite different than it has for most years past.
As schools transitioned to online platforms, students who received behavioral services, speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. were left with very little support. That’s incredibly challenging as a parent, not to mention the added difficulties of balancing it with working from home if you’re a parent who is also trying to work.
However, many people can lose sight of things that we can do consistently around our own home that can fight against regression and aid in the continued development of our young ones.
Below are a few things to do to help your loved ones grow in their natural environment while coping with limited access to school services or summer camps:
- Visual Step by Step - Many individuals learn a great deal from expectations being delivered in a picture format, with or without words, depending on the child’s abilities. Also, breaking down big tasks into smaller steps, called a Task Analysis, can support a child’s ability to process what will come next in a sequence of events to complete a task. These can be made for many different tasks, ranging from basic (shoe tying, hand-washing) to complex (completing homework, steps of multiplication, evening routines). Some examples can be found at Task Analysis.
- Visual Schedules - Using a visual schedule can help a person see and expect what will be coming next in their daily routine. Just like task analyses, visual aids can be tailored to any individual. Sequencing events can provide much needed warnings for when change and transitions will occur. It can help to plan this in a ‘preferred task’ followed by a ‘non-preferred task,’ starting off the schedule with a preference of the person the schedule is meant for and then going into tasks that may be more challenging. When moving from one task to the next, be sure to include consistent reminders of what will be coming next and create countdowns as you transition from one activity to another – especially if your little one has difficulty with transitions. There are many digital platforms that can not only help you tailor your schedules by taking personal pictures but that are also user-friendly for even the littlest of hands to manage. One I use the most is available on Apple products, Choiceworks. However if you want to make your own, there are many resources that provide free printable ones, such as Free Visual Printable Visual Schedules. When going to this site, scroll all the way down and click on the Teal button that says “Download your freebie here.”
- Follow through - As a parent, this strategy often requires a lot of energy, but it’s one of the most important ones. Not only does it help us to stick to our promises, it shows our little people that they can trust us, that we are not full of empty promises – whether we are providing something fun or delivering a less happy consequence. Our little ones are also involved in this contingency – they are able to experience what their actions gain them, depending on whether or not they uphold their end of the bargain. Setting clear expectations, informing them of what will happen once those expectations are met, and then delivering immediate reinforcement consistently (not just 1 time, at least 3 or more times) will reinforce future expectations and create an easier flow of follow through.
- Think about opportunities you can offer that school or camp couldn’t – Even though this isn’t our ideal situation, maybe we can reframe the way we’re thinking about it. What if we saw this as an opportunity to offer more time on skills that can’t be worked on at school – such as learning to ride a bike, having ‘class’ outside, tackling potty training for an intense period of time, practicing social skills with siblings, etc. What if we are now able to test out whether frequent movement breaks are really beneficial for our children - or if they benefit from spending a whole day of one subject rather than cramming all of them in. If we try to think of this as an opportunity to learn other skills or try other strategies, we may feel less frustrated and anxious.
- Try not to worry – There is only so much we have control over. If we can try to focus on those areas and focus less on the areas that we can’t control, we’re able to waste less energy and use that energy towards bettering our little people and ourselves. We can do our best to follow the online supports we have access to, set clear expectations for our children, use visuals as often as we can, and try to find the positives in this situation.
Some children may require more support and a more tailored approach when using the above strategies, since every individual is different. For further help, download the AnswersNow app to connect with one of our BCBAs.