A daily routine and schedule can be calming during these stormy times.
If you haven’t been living under a rock during the last five to six weeks, you are probably now very familiar with the term Coronavirus or COVID-19. If you are a parent or professional raising or working with kids, teens, or adults with disabilities, you are probably aware that the sudden changes and upheaval this virus is causing for American society and much of the modern world may prove to be very challenging and difficult for them, if it has not already.
The sudden closures of many school systems, childcare centers, employment programs, and art and sports activities will understandably add increased stress to parents as well as children’s daily lives. For many children and adults with disabilities, schedule and regular routine is very important to building a strong foundation for lifetime success. In a time where there is so much unknown and widespread anxiety because of a pandemic, a daily routine and schedule can be calming and provide a sense of stability and comfort to a child or adult, particularly those with disabilities.
Practicing social distancing does not mean isolating yourself.
Another area that will be very important to monitor over the next few weeks to months will be the development of or increase in mental health issues or symptoms. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana is now under a statewide stay-at-home order (except in certain cases) until further notice. Having to stay at home for most of the day is enough to likely drive anyone crazy, whether you are 5, 15, 45, or 95. The latest recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) involve social distancing. But keep in mind, particularly for teens and young adults who may be used to being very active and social: Practicing social distancing does not have to mean completely socially isolating yourself.
Additionally, the teen and young adult years can often be a time when mental health issues develop or worsen if already present during childhood. Many teens and young adults, even those with disabilities, can struggle with issues like anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors as well as mood disorders and difficulty with social interaction and forming meaningful social relationships.
Movement and regular physical activity decrease mental health symptoms.
In order to keep my own mental health as well monitored as possible, I try to take breaks from work and take regular, brisk walks outside. Movement and regular physical activity have been proven to decrease mental health symptoms. I have also devoted a good portion of my day to doing things I enjoy that keep my mind stimulated, such as reading and research. A friend and I also came up with the idea of being each other’s “Long Distance Check-In Buddy” during the pandemic. At least twice a week, we take turns Face Timing each other. (She is an IU student who has been sent home to Maryland.) We ask each other about our day and how we are doing and what we have done and how we are feeling or coping with what we have termed “Mandatory House Arrest.” This has really helped me to stay positive and have something to look forward to through the week. I have also been practicing meditation before bed and connecting with other friends through apps and technology as well.
COVID-19 is currently affecting our state, the country, and even other parts of the world. Encourage your teen or young adult to talk about their frustrations and feelings with someone they know and trust or channel those feelings into an appropriate coping mechanism such as taking a walk, reading, drawing, going for a run or bike ride, listening to music, or watching a favorite movie.
In cases where you may feel your child is showing signs of mental health distress for the first time or his or her symptoms are suddenly acutely worse, or in the event that he or she expresses a desire or intent to hurt or kill himself or someone else, please contact a licensed physician who may refer your child for further mental health services as needed.
Together, we will get through the challenge of COVID-19. All the best to you and your families.
- Check out these tips for parents from the National Fragile X Foundation on establishing a routine and a schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remember, these tips are simply intended to serve as a guide. As a parent or provider, you know your child or client best. Feel free to develop a routine that will work best for them based on their goals, strengths, challenges, and individual needs. If possible, get their input, too.
- For more on managing new schedules, see Autism Speaks’ web page “How to Cope with Disrupted Family Routines during COVID-19.” While Autism Speaks seeks to directly impact the lives of individuals living with autism, their families, and care providers, the resources and tips included in this article may apply to families and care providers who support individuals with diagnoses other than autism, as well.
- The Indiana Institute on Disability and Community has created a compilation of COVID-19 resources for individuals, families, teachers, and other professionals. There, you’ll find visual supports, tips for transition teachers, and more.