Transitioning to all or part-time virtual learning is challenging for all kids, but can pose added difficulty for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, anxiety or ADHD. Local mom and registered behavior therapist Jeanae Neal encourages parents and kids alike to try to remain focused on the big picture with hope and assurance that the challenges kids and parents are facing today won’t be with us forever.
Neal deals with anxiety herself and knows how easy it is to ruminate on the unknowns of living, working and learning during this pandemic. But she says it’s vital for parents to put on a brave face for their children, even as they are adapting to a new normal, affirming that even though adjustments are hard, we don’t have to let them bring us to a standstill. Being empathic and understanding of kids’ feelings is also key.
Neal provides 10 tips, especially for students with ASD, anxiety and ADHD but helpful for all kids, as students transition into a school environment that likely looks different than what they are used to:
- Remind yourself that new things require adjustment. For a helpful frame of reference, think back to when your child with ASD, anxiety or ADHD started therapy or started something new, even school, that was a challenge. It’s OK if it takes a while for your child, and you, to adjust to a new schedule or type of learning.
- Create consistencies. One of the most helpful steps for all kids, but especially those with special needs or mental health challenges, is to establish a consistent routine. As kids are getting used to using screens for school, incorporate time into each day to practice those new processes or apps, intermingled with time off screen.
- If possible, sit down with kids while they do their schoolwork. For kids with ADHD especially, remember that there are likely many more distractions at home than at school, everything from toys to kids’ favorite snacks! But if you’re there, working with them, or even doing your own work next to them, they will be more inclined to follow your lead.
- Give kids frequent breaks. It’s challenging for adults to sit and stare at a computer all day, and that’s even more true for kids. Kids’ attention spans are often shorter than we think. Gauge about how long your child can focus on a task (and this make take practice!), then set a timer and say we’re going to work on this project till the timer goes off and then we’ll take a break. During those breaks, play their favorite game, color, watch a few minutes of a favorite show or walk outside.
- Move your bodies and move away from the workspace throughout the day. It’s stressful on the body to sit all day long, so during those breaks, get moving when you can. Physically getting away from the workspace can be reinvigorating as well, whether you take a few minutes to go outdoors or just into a different room. Pretend play or role playing are great ways to remove your child from schoolwork, even if only in their imagination.
- Kids need a lot of stimulation. Tap into those subjects and activities that are educationally stimulating but also fun that will spur their curiosity for knowledge. If that fun stimulation isn’t or can’t be incorporated into schoolwork, try to incorporate it into their break times.
- Allow kids the opportunity to process their feelings. Have candid conversations about the challenges of living, and learning, in a pandemic. Encourage kids to express their emotions, whether that’s through having a good cry, screaming or yelling, journaling or the like. Sometimes that means kids need a break from you as the parent to process feelings alone and come back to talk it out when they are ready. Giving kids empathy, allowing them to have emotional outlets and helping them find peace will go a long way.
- Watch for new, concerning or repetitive behaviors that are impeding learning or everyday life. Ask your child’s therapist, counselor or teacher (current or former) if behaviors you’re seeing during learning at home are behaviors they’ve seen previously from your child in a learning environment, and if they are, how they mitigate the behavior. If the behavior is keeping the child from learning, harming themselves or someone else, seek counsel right away. With any new behavior or concern, it can be helpful to ask questions of a professional simply for peace of mind so you as the parent can move from worrying into action or nonaction as the situation requires.
- As the parent, make time for your own breaks and self-care. Parents have so many expectations for ourselves, from managing our households and/or careers to now helping our kids with their schoolwork. Especially when you are feeling out of control or like something just isn’t right, make time for yourself, even if just for a few minutes.
- Plan quality time as a family. The safety, security and fun of time together helps kids, and adults, mitigate the unknown with more positivity and courage.
Jeanae Neal, MA, RBT, is originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, but grew up in the Edmond area. She graduated high school from Edmond Public Schools and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in sociology from the University of Central Oklahoma. She recently earned a master’s of psychology with an emphasis in Applied Behavioral Analysis. Jeanae has worked as a Registered Behavior Therapist for the past three years and is currently working from home while enjoying time with her 4-month-old baby girl and husband of two years.
For even more insights on virtual learning and homeschooling for children with learning differences, check out these tips from Trinity School at Edgemere, the only private school in the OKC metro that for almost a decade has solely provided research-based methods that help students with learning differences reach their fullest potentials.