As a parent or caregiver of a child with an intellectual disability during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, your family may be experiencing significant changes. With school dismissals in place, your child may have lost access to in-person therapies such as speech, behavioral, occupational, and physical therapies. Or the child may have transitioned to virtual therapies.
For children who have difficulty attending to or grasping complex concepts, virtual instruction may be less effective than in-person therapies. In order to help your child benefit from virtual learning, it is important to continue to communicate with your child’s teachers and therapists and to learn home exercises that you can do with your child. This “train-the-trainer” model can be individualized for each family, depending on the parent’s comfort level and availability. The point is that you are doing the best you can for your child!
Children with intellectual disabilities may be sensitive to changes and feel more secure following established routines. It would be important to foster structure in your home to reduce the degree of change your child may be experiencing. This can include establishing an achievable schedule that is somewhat similar to your child’s typical school day and includes:
- A set time for waking up and going to bed.
- A schedule for exercise.
- A timeframe for individual learning activities similar to the child’s school-day schedule.
You can help your child understand what to expect each by day breaking the schedule down into short, easily understandable parts.
Teaching your child at home
- If you have a sense of what cognitive level your child is, (e.g. the child’s teacher estimated she was functioning at the kindergarten level), use educational materials for that age group. Ask your child’s teacher or therapist if you are not sure of your child’s cognitive level.
- Pick books and activities appropriate for your child’s cognitive level.
- Break information down into smaller parts and make sure to explain it slowly to ensure your child can follow and understand you.
- Repetition. Children with intellectual disabilities learn best when they are exposed to new concepts multiple times.
- Connect to relevant information and resources that can help, when possible.
- If the child needs help, provide just enough information to help the child help himself. The goal is to gradually reduce the amount of support you provide, until he or she can complete the task independently.
- Try to use diverse and new sensory experiences
- Sensory play is any kind of play that engages the senses – sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. Engaging the senses in an activity allows the brain to make stronger connections, helping children to learn more complex concepts. Sensory play can also be a great calming mechanism when children are nervous or anxious, while promoting motor skills. Examples: writing numbers and letters in shaving cream on bathroom tiles.
- Set aside time daily for development of daily living skills such as self-care and functional skills.
How to discuss COVID-19 with your child
- Allow your child the opportunity to ask questions. This will provide insight on what information he or she understands to guide you on how much to explain at a level that is developmentally appropriate.
- Keep communication simple. Provide enough information that informs your child but not so much as to be overwhelming. You can explain that this is a virus that can be spread through coughing and sneezing, and touching things like doorknobs.
The local Arc of Florida has wonderful resources, including an information sheet on COVID-19 by visiting: http://www.arcflorida.org/covid-19-resources/
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More information on COVID-19 and additional resources for children with intellectual disabilities can be obtained from www.understood.org.