Children with special needs often find security in routine and structure and this is how they understand their world.
By Jackie Harland
The lockdown has been difficult for us as adults even though we have full understanding of why it is necessary and that it will not be forever, but if you are a child, and especially one with special needs, this time will be very confusing and likely to result in increased anxiety.
Children with special needs often find security in routine and structure and this is how they understand their world. They know what is going to happen next by cues in their environment and what usually happens at this time. So, when everything suddenly changes, and change for children with special needs is often extremely difficult, their world is suddenly unpredictable and scary.
Create new routines
It is important that we as parents try to create new routines as soon as possible in the home setting. We need to create structure that brings predictability again, and also bring in things that our children love such as painting, playing ball, etc, and try to do these activities at the same point each day. This may be to create different routines and activities in different rooms and put together a simple picture schedule for their day.
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Recognise behavioural cues
Children with special educational needs may well be behaving differently at this time and that is totally understandable. We need to see their behaviour as communication – even if they can talk, they may not be able to talk about how they are feeling, so they will be showing this through their behaviour. Try to recognise the subtle clues they are giving you, patterns of times when they behave in a certain way, things that seem to frustrate them or make them anxious; and introduce calming activities at these times. Recognise what your child loves and is interested in and set up an area that can be their calming ‘happy’ place. This might be with cushions and favourite books or toys. When you feel they may be getting frustrated, encourage them to go to this place and before long they will do this themselves and start learning about how to regulate, something we all need to do!
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Establish connects with loved ones
Children are suddenly not mixing with other children and this can make them feel isolated. We need to try and think of ways that they can enjoy interaction with others on video calling with family and friends. Again, having a regular time each day for calling helps children to think about friends and anticipate interaction. Where they are used to playing with others around them, we can set up shared play activities ourselves and create fun memories together, such as making a den with pillows and blankets and hiding in the den looking at books together with snacks.
As difficult as this time is for so many families, let’s create some amazing memories for our children in the midst of the challenges we are facing.
(The writer is a speech and language therapist with a Masters in early childhood education. She has co-founded the London Learning Centre in Delhi, which has partnered with KLAY Preschool and Day Care to cater to children with special needs across the country.)
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