Special Needs during COVID-19

September 2, 2020

Caring for a child with special needs can be stressful even during “normal times” but we are now facing the added stress of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Sweeping changes in our routines and cancellation of our normal group therapies and schooling have created some challenges for our children with special needs and parents/caregivers caring for them.

As a mother of two children with special needs, my daughter with Autism and my son battling Leukemia, I empathize with other parents or caregivers who are just trying to get through each day.  Each day isn’t perfect and each day present new stressors and sometimes the return of old stressors. To help here are some ways to reduce stress and build those “coping mechanisms” to get through this time of uncertainty.

  • Keep those lines of communication open- children can sense when something is wrong, they can feel the energy in the room based on how the adults are behaving. Communicate with your children about what is happening, given them the facts either with a sit-down talk, or create a social story. Below are links to a few sample social stories that have been helpful for us. Remind your kids that they can come to you with questions or if they are feeling scared or worried. Often children and teens, just want to feel that they are heard and their feelings are valid, as parents/caregivers, we can do this by listening.
  • Create a routine- this may seem basic but children, even those without special needs, thrive off routine. Keep your family’s schedule consistent when it comes to bedtimes, meals, and activities. Create a visual schedule and keep it simple. There are many examples of visual schedules online ranging from simple to elaborate. Use what items you have on hand and make something that works with your family; a simple whiteboard or piece of paper with the days written out will do.
  • Keep Moving- When I think of exercise I am reminded of the line from Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” Set aside time on your visual schedule to take family walks or bike rides (keeping good social distancing, of course) or doing a workout video from YouTube (if your kids enjoy yoga, check out Cosmic Kids on YouTube- she makes fun yoga videos and my family really enjoys).
  • Get Creative- Find ways to incorporate new ideas into your schedule. For my family, we have enjoyed creating and planting a garden. It not only gets us outside but I let the kids help plant. They are enjoying watching their seedlings grow. Plan a family theme night for dinner- let the kids pick a theme and think of a dinner menu, games, and have everyone dress up.
  • Tackle those anxieties- In order to be there for our children, we need to care of ourselves first. As the old saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. Take some time to de-stress and focus on your own needs. Yes, be selfish (just for a bit). Do an at-home facial or pedicure. Order take- out from your favorite restaurant and have a nice date-night in with your partner. Schedule respite to give you a much-deserved break (ALTA has increased hours to 120/quarter for all clients during this COVID-19 pandemic). If you or another family member are struggling with excessive worries, fears, or depression seek the advice of your physician right away.

Building up our coping mechanisms takes time, ease into it, and take it one step at a time. Remember to be patient with yourselves and your children.

Jessica M. Myers, MSW, C-SWHC, ASW is a Care Manager with Elder Options and a mother to 2 with special needs. Jessica has over 20 years of experience working in the medical field, with the last 6 of those years as a Social Worker. She is experienced with working with clients of different ages, backgrounds, and needs. She is passionate about providing resources and support to help individuals and families succeed.

Resources Mentioned:


Categories: Home Care, Staying Safe