John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera on The Parents of Special Needs Children Also Have Needs

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to all kinds of “I’m trapped at home with my kids and I’m going out of my mind!” memes, and more than a few articles that would fall into the “first world problems” category. I’m not saying there aren’t challenges, of course. As one of the more helpful memes puts it, with a wistful Forrest Gump looking into space, “And just like that, no one ever asked again what a stay-at-home mom does all day.”

One group of parents we should especially keep in mind at this time is the group least likely to constantly remind us what they are going through, if for no other reason than they’re simply too busy. I’m talking of parents of children with autism and other developmental disabilities. With most, if not all, special education programs and services suspended indefinitely, these parents are even busier than usual.

Many of us haven’t fully thought through what makes “special education,” well, so “special.” The goal of special education is to “help individuals with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and in their community…” While that includes academic subjects, those with developmental disorders need to learn essential skills that other children can often learn by imitating parents and their peers, including basic social skills.

Consider something as simple as looking at someone when they speak to you. There is a kind of self-awareness and the ability to acknowledge another’s presence taken for granted in this basic social habit. And, this habit is an essential part of so many other skills that can dramatically impact and even improve one’s social life. A colleague of mine has a son with autism, and he marvels at how his son went from ignoring other people, to greeting them and even sticking out his hand expecting a handshake.

Another incredibly helpful skill to learn is how to cope with the sensory overload. This defining aspect of autism is why so many children on the spectrum tend to be anxious and retreat into distinct behaviors, such as rocking and flicking their fingers. Simply put, they are trying to turn the world’s volume down.

Though parents are, of course, essential to helping their children learn these skills, it often takes special training to learn how to teach these skills to those with unique challenges. So many parents rely on the sorts of programs that have not been available since the start of this pandemic. Even more, such programs provide consistency to those who often feel much safer with a routine.

Children with Down Syndrome present different kinds of challenges, which also require the training and expertise of others that many parents rely on. In addition to losing these services, studies indicate that “respiratory tract infections (viral and bacterial) do appear to be more common in most young people with Down’s Syndrome.” Imagine the anxiety and stress being felt by parents of these kids in the age of COVID-19.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera