Caring for Special Needs Children During COVID-19
April 22, 2020
Here are tips from UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital licensed clinical psychologist Kimberly Burkhart, PhD, for taking care of a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder during COVID-19.
Neurodevelopmental disorders include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, learning disorders, communication disorders, prenatal substance exposure and other neurodevelopmental disorders
Possible Special Considerations
- Difficulty understanding cause and effect
- Lack of age-appropriate friendships
- Difficulty adjusting to changes in routine and transitions
- Communication challenges
- Adaptive behavior challenges
Common Reactions to COVID-19
- Emotional and behavioral dysregulation
- Sleep disturbance
- Regressive behavior (e.g., toileting problems, co-sleeping)
- Anxiety/increased repetitive behaviors
- Clingy behavior
- Negative affect
- Aggressive behavior
- Increased hyperactivity/impulsivity
What Caregivers Can Do for Their Children
- Create a social story related to COVID-19 that includes concepts such as handwashing, social distancing and shelter in place.
- Promote security – be predictable, patient, clear and calm.
- Establish a daily routine – have a consistent wake time, meal time, work time and bed time.
- Create a visual schedule of daily tasks.
- Promote positive caregiver-child interaction through child-directed play.
- Use praise often.
- Create a reinforcement plan or token system – focus on two to three positive behaviors that your child can receive stickers/points for that may lead to a small prize or privilege.
- Connect your child to social supports.
- Provide your child with sensory opportunities – tactile, auditory, olfactory and visual.
- Focus on the positive – identify one positive aspect of your day, correct your child's misconceptions and discuss something to look forward to.
Stress Management for You and Your Children
- Practice taking deep breaths. Coach your child through this process by explaining that you breathe in through your nose like smelling a flower and breathe out through your mouth like blowing out a birthday candle.
- Stretch and relax your muscles. For example, stretch your arms up and bring them down, clench your fists and relax your fingers and point your toes and relax your legs.
- Be mindful. Pick something to focus on using your five senses and describe it.
- Read a book or look at pictures of something that relaxes you.
- Let your child cook or bake with you.
- Color or draw.
- Keep a journal of positive things that happened each day.
- Learn about your child’s interests.
- Exercise and take breaks from sitting for extended periods of time.
- Spend time with pets.
Learn more about autism services at UH Rainbow.