We parents have our work cut out for us.
How do you juggle working from home with parenting without support? How do you continue your essential service job when you don’t have childcare? What kind of assurances can you provide your child when you don’t know how long this dystopic reality will last, and you’re as anxious as they are?
Friends without children are posting on Facebook about Marie Kondo-ing their living spaces. “My house has never looked so clean!” Others are knitting, baking bread, learning an instrument or a language to combat their boredom. Those of us with kids are far from bored. Being a parent right now is a challenge. And parenting a neurodiverse kid comes with added complications.
Many neurodiverse kids receive (and require) support from a variety of people, either at home or at school: ABA therapists/behaviour interventionists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, respite workers. None of this is available.
The agency through which Angus receives support has laid off its staff. We have Autism Funding and Respite Funding we need to use up before early summer, and no services to spend them on. For us, respite funding is an appreciated bonus. Mike and I usually save it for summer and spring breaks, to give Angus support at camps. For parents with more complex kids, this support is their only break from round-the-clock care. The loss of support workers also means the loss of sounding boards, advocates and advisors for parents who are struggling. It means the loss of routine for children who require routine to feel safe and secure.
Routines. There are countless posts on social media about how detrimental it is to schedule your child’s day. Just let them play. Just let them be. For some kids, that is probably fine advice. For others it isn’t.
What about the child with sensory issues who used to rely on crash pads and trampolines each morning at school? The kids who needs to run and climb around the playground to regulate, but lives in an apartment? The kid who was finally feeling successful through daily reading support at school (and has a single book at home written to their level)? And what about our picky eaters—the neurodiverse kids who require particular foods—for medical reasons or sensory ones?
Angus eats peanut butter every morning; there is a single brand of straight-peanut peanut butter that is not “gritty” and therefore acceptable. But when shelves are empty, you can’t be choosy. He relies on salmon for a large part of his protein, one of the only foods he’s guaranteed to eat. When I braved the grocery store there was no fish for sale. We’re fine—there are other foods Angus will eat. But we know other kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder who will only eat five or six very particular items.
Some parents of neurodiverse kids have posted that they actually feel more able to face the pandemic than their friends with neurotypical kids.
“We are already socially isolated!” one mom wrote. “There are so many barriers to inclusion in our community, that our spring break wouldn’t have looked much different than it is now.”
But this isn’t just spring break. No support for two weeks is one thing. No support for months is quite another.
I was asked to provide advice, but I don’t have much to offer. There are a lot of opinions floating around social media about how to parent now. Besides the posts about scheduling being detrimental there are detailed posts advising people how to schedule full school-days at home. Parents in my circle have asked advice from Facebook friends and have received dozens of comments, all with contradictory opinions.
Angus needs routine and so do I, and so we have created this. Each morning after breakfast we go to school at our kitchen table. Spelling, math, journal writing, typing, core exercises, PE outside, yoga. We alternate brain work with body work. I’m privileged. I work from home already, and Mike is working at home now also. I spend the morning with Angus and Mike spends the afternoon with him doing art projects. We converge for dinnertime. If we have energy left after he goes to bed, we can finish up projects then. Full disclosure: never once have I had energy left after Angus has gone to bed.
I had already considered homeschooling Angus. I had planned for spring break to be an experiment in learning from home. I had read books. I had bought resources. I spent six years before Angus was born as an educational assistant. I don’t feel out of my depth teaching him, and most of the time he’s willing pupil. That’s certainly not the case for all children, and some neurodiverse kids receive specialized educational support that their parents will be unable to emulate.
After days of feeling consumed by the news, of checking numbers and statistics, of working myself up about family members who are not practicing social distancing, of catastrophizing, I have decided the only guaranteed thing I can do for Angus is to be calm in his presence. To turn off the news. To tell him only as much as he needs to know. To assure him, and myself, that although no one knows when this will end, it will end. And we will carry him safely until we reach the other side.