New normal. These two words are becoming more and more commonplace in 2020 and, unfortunately, hold more questions than answers. Although this “new normal” is hard for all of us to understand, here are three tips to help children with disabilities during these ever-changing times.
1. Maintain Structure
Coping with change is hard for most people, but it can be especially hard for children with disabilities. They often depend upon a schedule and when it is drastically changed—such as during a pandemic—children with disabilities can experience difficulty coping with this change. It is important as a family and church to support them with as much structure as possible. One way is to utilize a visual schedule. It can have times, words, pictures, removable events, or whatever makes it easier for the child to understand what will happen that day and what is expected of them to bring stability and comfort.
In the home: A parent can make a visual schedule of times when the child will wake up, pray, eat meals, do school work, have a break or outside time, listen to Bible stories, have screen time, and go to bed. The child can even be involved in making this schedule, such as picking out pictures, coloring the schedule, deciding what activities will go at what time. Have fun with this activity to help the child feel empowered in this time of uncertainty.
God creates every child beautifully unique.
In the church: Your church schedule may look drastically different. You may have protocols for entering, being seated, and leaving the building. The church can help children understand this new system by developing a visual schedule with activities such as walk into the church, follow someone to your seat, singing, preaching, wait until you are told to leave, etc.
2. Talk to Your Kids
This pandemic is difficult for us all to understand, so speaking to children about current events is necessary. Talk about how it affects them and what they can expect with wearing masks or staying home. Although these are difficult topics, many resources can help our children understand the pandemic without provoking fear. As a speech-language pathologist working at a school for children with disabilities, I utilize social stories to help students understand changes in schedule, social cues, etc. A social story is a story written for a child to help them understand an event, what to expect in the event, and why. Social stories are a great tool to help children with disabilities understand different aspects of the pandemic, what to expect, and why, such as what a mask is, when/where we need to wear it, and why. Social stories can be written by anyone, but can also be found online about certain topics.
3. Exercise Patience
In working with children with disabilities, one thing that has become evident is the amount of regression I have seen in my students with their skills during this time. Students who were able to complete certain tasks before the quarantine are no longer able to complete them at the same level now. This may be due to lack of practice, difference in setting, or distractibility on a Zoom call.Abilities, skills, and behaviors may come and go, but three things will last forever—“faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” Click To Tweet
Although noticing regression in our children with disabilities can be discouraging, we must remember how much they are coping with at this time. Having patience and understanding with our children’s abilities or behaviors is showing them the love explained in I Corinthians 13. Godly love “never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (I Corinthians 13:7, NLT). Abilities, skills, and behaviors may come and go, but three things will last forever—“faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13, NLT).
God creates every child beautifully unique, and these strategies in this article may not work perfectly for the children with disabilities in your life. However, the most important way we can support our children during this pandemic is to share the truth of the One who never changes. Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that Jesus Christ is the “same yesterday, today, and forever”; therefore, sharing Jesus with our children daily through words and actions will give them the surety of the One they can depend on in all times…even during a pandemic.
Bio: Sarah Zenobia received her master’s degree in speech-language pathology from Stephen F. Austin State University. She currently works at a school for children with disabilities and loves helping her students find their voice. She has a passion for working with people with disabilities in school and church settings. She also enjoys teaching Sunday school, singing with the praise team, and working with the youth group at her local church.
Resources and Links:
When God Says No Book