"Life's biggest rewards come from the biggest challenges"
~ Greg Behrendt
These unprecedented times are definitely challenging, but we must recognise the unique challenges experienced by families afflicted by disabilities. Our hearts go out to not just our clients, but all families with special needs children affected by this difficult period of time. Parents still having to work full time from home and keep the younglings occupied, that can be a feat for sure. Sending lots of love and light to all families and children at home, thank you for enduring these difficult times and powering through, for the good of the nation.
Since we are all confined to our own homes, there are things that can help make this time both meaningful to the kids, and also benefit parents...
...two key words here are: Independence and Functionality!
Working on your child's independence during this time can increase your child's skill-sets while giving you the time to attend to other pressing matters like work, household chores, and also... YOU time! (Yes,, that IS a pressing matter too! Self care for parents is so important!)
Working on functionality of skills and tasks just means that you are practising skills that are most relevant for your child to be able to use in his/her daily life. Especially during this MCO period.
So, taking independence and functionality into account, here are some things that fall into those categories-
The most functional self-help skill during this time is..... Washing hands! Perhaps most kids know how to wash their hands, but teaching them to wash their hands according to the proper guidelines can also be done in a fun way.
--> Make a song out of it!
If your child likes to sing, sing 20s of his/her favourite song to accompany the hand-washing with the proper steps
--> Have a checklist!
List all the steps for hand=washing (duration for each step included), and have your child tick off each step with a marker as he/she goes! To make it even more fun, your child can earn stickers for good hand-washing as per your checklist at the end. Tip: Have everything laminated, clean, and splash-proof so it can all be by the sink ;)
--> Take a video!
Lots of kids have fun taking videos of themselves, have them record their "perfect" hand-washing routine for them to show off to you or other family members. This can also create the opportunity for appropriate social rewards when they see he/she has done a good job!
Besides washing hands, take some time to zoom in on other self-help skills unique to your child's needs to do some simple practice for maybe 15-20 minutes daily, or for as much time as you can spare.
2. Appropriate play
Appropriate play may vary for different children of different abilities. If your child has challenges with motor skills, pick some play surrounding simpler actions/manipulations that he/she will be successful at. For example.. placing different items into different containers, messy play, simple 'swipe' or 'tap' educational games on the iPad,
For kids with more advanced motor skills, think about activities like colouring sheets, cutting and pasting and other art & craft activities, puzzles and lego building, Varieties of play can prevent boredom, and these activities may require less adult supervision (of course, depending on your child's capabilities!)
If your child with special needs has siblings, promote some social play among them. Set a time (maybe 10 mins a couple of times a day) for a play date where different games can be introduced. And here's a tip: Group them all together and make the 'win' dependent on how well they do working together! Make it super positive and encouraging! This will foster cooperation and helpful behaviour towards their special needs sibling. Eventually when they find this fun, each game can run itself without you having to closely supervise.
3. Simple chores
Let's face it.. no child likes to do chores! But this can be a functional aspect of their time at home with you, and also give you more time to do other things when they can be independent. We're talking about simple chores like setting the table, sweeping a room or two, wiping down the kitchen counter, making the bed, putting the laundry away, etc.
First, you need to make sure the chore is simple enough for your child to perform. Once you have determined this, teach it to your child. Remember, since learning is highly dependent on motivation, you would need to reward your child for staying with you for the lesson and performing the assigned task/each step.
You can do this by either:
--> Making a 'contract'
This would be something like... "If you can finish wiping the table and it's all clean, then you can have your favourite snack!".
However, be careful not to use a 'contract' when your child is refusing to do the task or is showing any other problem behaviour... because this means bribery & we want to avoid that at all costs! Only use a 'contract' when your child is being good!
--> Rewarding each small step
When teaching your child to do a chore, break it down into simple steps. As you take your child through each step to learn the chore, give rewards at each step to keep him/her motivated! As your child gets better with some steps, he/she would not need such frequent rewards, so rewards can be focused more on the difficult steps and/or completion of the whole task.
Also, meal preparations can be considered a FUN chore! Especially if your child is very interested in food, or if you give the child choices of what he/she would like to eat and help prepare.
4. Daily schedule
Having somewhat of a routine can be helpful to some kids in managing and regulating this challenging time. By splitting the day into segments, you can incorporate durations of play, chores, simple teaching, and mealtimes (including prep time!). This is a good way to give your child some certainty and security to get through each day.
You can prepare this as a visual schedule that can maybe be placed on the fridge or in the child's personal area. Every morning, you can go through the 'events' of the day with your child, taking note of any requests or preferences your child has, and incorporating those into the schedule as well. Letting kids exercise the power of choice can help maintain cooperative behaviour and keep their spirits up in general. Of course, this should be done within reason, so that the child has a good balance of exercising choice as well as listening to and cooperating with you when necessary!
We at Autism Link sincerely thank everyone for being responsible during this time, and for playing your parts in keeping everyone safe! Special shout out to all our beloved kiddos at home, we hope to all of you soon!
Stay safe everyone!