Schools and institutes for children with disabilities are advising parents to monitor the words and body language of family members so that the child is not hurt.
Staying at home 24X7 can be stressful for both children and parents but family members have to be more sensitive and engage children in activities at home when there are no outdoor options available.
The heads of some institutes said the school is often a “happy space” for children with special needs and a source of “respite” for parents who have to constantly supervise the child’s activities, which can be exhausting as well.
“It can be stressful for parents because some children need constant supervision and a 24X7 companion. Schools are respite centres for them and in absence of that support parents can burn out easily. Parents, too, have household work and professional commitments to attend to,” said psychotherapist and counsellor Minu Budhia.
Budhia, the founder and director of psychological wellness centre Caring Minds, is telling parents not to express their fears and frustrations before their children, whose routine has already been upset by the closure of schools.
“We urge you to proactively monitor the words and the body language of people at home or those in regular contact with your child. Their home is their safe space while their happy place is closed, so please do not let them hear words, see gestures, or be at the receiving end of any behaviour that makes them feel like a burden or an inconvenience,” Budhia said.
Schools have been making lesson plans or suggesting activities for parents to make it easy for themselves and their children at home.
“Since they cannot go out to the park or even drop in at a relative’s home, they should be encouraged to make video calls with friends or relatives to maintain social connect,” said Indrani Basu, founder, Autism Society West Bengal.
Parents should build a “social story” and explain to their children the present situation in a language that they will understand, she said.
The heads of schools feel that it could be more stressful because the shutdown is sudden and long.
“This is an unusual situation and not like the summer vacation or Puja holidays when they are prepared and have outings planned. With low-functioning children, it is especially difficult for parents to explain the situation. But parents and extended family members have to be patient and empathetic towards them and put themselves in their children’s shoes,” said Anamika Sinha, the director of Manovikas Kendra.
Basu suggested that parents make an effort to spend “interactive time” with their children.
“They should draw up a routine, mark it in the calendar and fix activity times with them and listen to music. With no house help around, children can help in chores such as filling up glasses or fetching dry clothes,” she said.
Recommended activities include newspaper cutting, drawing, colouring plant pots, computer games, reading or cooking a meal together. Budhia urged fathers, who are not home at other times, to catch up.
“For children, parents are the world and it is difficult for them to see them stressed. These children are very sensitive and any stress or anxiety can transmit into them,” she said.