We are living through unprecedented times and the stress and impact on everyone is clear to see. However, for many parents, the worry about the long-term impact that this time period will have on their children is very real and shouldn’t be ignored. For children who are on the spectrum and for whom face to face school provides an opportunity for practicing social skills, receiving academic challenge and an outlet to burn additional energy, the concern for parents is even higher.
Voices on both side of the debate are loud – some saying lockdown will have no effect long term at all and others saying that the longer kids are out of school, the wider the gap between them and their peers will become. I see children who fit in both categories daily within my practice and there is definitely no one size fits all. Here are some of my top tips to encourage your child to be able to maximise their development during this time:
1) PAY ATTENTION TO THEIR DIFFICULTIES
One of the biggest benefits of home school is the ability of parents to see first-hand where a child is having particular struggles. This may be literacy, numeracy, organisation or focus amongst others. By identifying where the biggest areas of challenge lie for any individual child, you can put steps in place to ensure that school is on board to help them. It also allows parents the opportunity to decipher what additional resources and support is needed to ensure the gap between the child and their peers doesn’t grow too wide.
2) ENCOURAGE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY EVERY DAY
There is a reason why we are allowed exercise each day. There is a huge amount of research to support the connection between physical activity and feeling positive. For children on the spectrum a burst of physical activity even at home helps to release endorphins and provide a much-needed sensory break from the day’s demands. Even in isolation there are ways to incorporate this eg: use your outdoor space if you have one; allow your play room to become an obstacle course; as the weather gets warmer think about water play outdoors!
3) LEARN A NEW SKILL
In the first lockdown this was something talked about a lot and I think as we have all become demotivated, the idea has fallen by the wayside. Find an interest that you can share with your child that will encourage their passions or develop their skills in an area they love. Some examples could be – baking / cooking; origami or other craft activity; growing a veggie garden; creative writing; learning a new language. Set aside special time to work on this skill with them yourself or even through an online course. This ensures that in this time, there will be positive growth and development of your child’s horizons.
4) FOCUS ON LIFE SKILLS
Many parents with children on the spectrum worry about their child’s ability to juggle learning life skills with getting through the monotony of every day. Use this time to focus on some basics. Think about encouraging your child to prepare their own ( age appropriate lunch); teaching them how to use the washing machine or dishwasher or encourage them to help with the weekly shop.
5) FAMILY TIME
One of the biggest down sides of lockdown is the separation of children from their friends and normal social interactions. Many of my clients on the spectrum are retreating to screens and parents are concerned that they are losing the ability to connect with real life people. The family unit is a microcosm of wider society and so can be used to encourage these social skills. Try to set aside a time for a family meal where everyone has to take turns to talk or a family games night including all members of the family and without screens being allowed. Whilst no one can say for certain what the long-term effects of lockdown may be, by trying to make lockdown as positive as possible for our children and doing what we feel is manageable within our own homes, we can hopefully focus more on what is being gained than lost.
About the Author; Ariella Lew is a highly qualified paediatric nurse and Director of Kids on Track Consultancy. Ariella consults both locally and overseas. She is an expert on topics including parenting, behaviour, family dynamics, sleep and toilet training. She also has specialisation in providing strategies for families of children with additional needs.
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