Coping with Crisis

Autism: A New Perspective
Autism: A New Perspective
Coping with Crisis

We are all impacted in one way or another during this crisis and dealing with COVID-19 but what if we could use this opportunity with our family to overcome crisis in a uniquely RDI way?

Imagine what our children could learn about family and what it means to come together!

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Kat Lee: Welcome to a special edition of ASD, A New Perspective. The podcast show where we help you understand the mind of your child and we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible.

Kat Lee: I’m Kat Lee and in this podcast, Dr. Sheely addresses the crisis created by COVID-19, speaking directly to parents who are at home with their children and encouraging them that we can find opportunities even in times of crisis. Let’s listen in.

Kat Lee: With your such extensive background working with families and families with children with autism are in a specific boat during this crisis. How can they cope with the crisis that they’re in? What is your experience with this?

Dr. Sheely: My experience, I think what I’d like to talk about first is about our children on the spectrum are sometimes barometers of how we’re feeling and what we’re sensing and how we’re reacting to crises. So having a way to talk to them about that really clears the air for both the parents and the children.

Dr. Sheely: I think it’s important for the children to know what’s going on, although we don’t want to scare them to death either. But it is important to know because they are going to have to take care of themselves in ways that parents can’t do 24/7. For example, washing hands. I mean we always tell our children to wash hands and now they have to wash their hands and it’s important to let them know that this really is a different time for us and people are getting sick.

Dr. Sheely: One of the ways we care for ourselves and each other is to wash our hands. One of the things that I just did with my grandson was I taught him to wash his hands and sing Happy Birthday. So he can’t stop washing his hands until he sings Happy Birthday. Then, of course, we make it silly. So Happy Birthday, dear Easter Bunny or Santa Clause or wagon in the street or our wheels rolling on the ground, but we make it funny, but I hear him in there by himself when he needs to wash his hands, singing the song and it’s a way for parents to build in the length of time that hands should be washed and to imprint on their children that this really is dangerous. We’re going to, we’re going to do everything we can to be safe. We’ll probably be okay but we have to take care of each other.

Dr. Sheely: So things like that, that sense that children… I know sometimes our parents feel that maybe their children don’t understand what’s going on emotionally because the empathy isn’t fully in place, which is often true. At the same time, they are barometers and they do sense what’s going on and they reflect it back.

Kat Lee: I think that’s so important to remember and with that in mind, how would you guide parents to manage their own emotions during this time because that’s so very difficult?

Dr. Sheely: I think that parents can manage their own emotions if they feel that they’re on top of what they need to do, that their children are going to do what they need to do and if they have a way to manage crowds. Because what we’re being told is self-quarantine and even before we were told to self-quarantine, most of us were doing that. We were avoiding places.

Dr. Sheely: So maybe having things delivered, which I mean cabin fever can be awful to be honest with you. But having things delivered and reducing the stressfulness in ways that are possible can help with our own stress. I think also kind of taking a deep breath and saying, given where we are and the fact that we are self-quarantine, the age that we are, we’re probably going to be okay and to have that thought in the back of our minds and then to clean. I mean to clean and to do this stuff that we typically do maybe once every two weeks or once a month or never. But to go ahead and do those things and to engage our children in doing them as well.

Kat Lee: I was thinking of the importance of routine and I was talking to a family about this and I’m saying, I know in RDI we talk about kind of changing things up and not being static and my parents said we need to be flexible, we need to be flexible about being static. I thought that was a wonderful thing because routine is a scaffold in times of crisis, don’t you think so?

Dr. Sheely: I couldn’t agree more. Katherine. I think we can also think about routine as blocks of time. So for example, if you have a block of time and you haven’t really filled in that block of time but you know where you’re going, where your bodies are going to be.

Dr. Sheely: So for example, from nine to 10 the routine is we’re going to be outside. We know that there aren’t many people out in our neighborhood. We’re going to walk the dog or we’re going to wash the car or we’re going to walk around the block. We are not going to go to the playground because we know we have to be careful about the virus on stuff like that.

Dr. Sheely: So anyway, so I feel like a routine is important from nine to 10, just the way I’ve been thinking about it, we’re going to be outside, if possible. From 10 to 11 we’re going to have a quiet time. From 11 to 12, which means kids playing by themselves. 11 to 12, we’re going to fix lunch. From 12 to one we’re going to have lunch. From one to two, we’re going to do household chores; everybody’s going to work. From two to three, we’ll play games together. But to have that kind of thing.

Dr. Sheely: So we have those broad categories and there’s an expectation, a scaffolded expectation of what broadly will happen, then we can fill in the blanks and in fact what we can do the night before is decide, nine to 10 tomorrow are there only certain places we can be outside? What are the kinds of things we could do? Okay, let’s play basketball in the backyard or let’s just take a walk around the block. Let’s ride our bicycles down the street. But having that kind of thing gives some normality to this idea that we really cannot do whatever we want to do right now and we have to keep ourselves and our families safe.

Kat Lee: And the disruption to the schedule, the routine they did have. So you know, the old routine has been disrupted, was not really a warning and so just knowing that we’re putting in the new routine. It’ll be same but different, which is another thing that I think is really important at this time is to communicate that whether it’s about school at home, or whether it’s about how we get our exercise, that we’re doing the same, but it’s different.

Dr. Sheely: I think one of the things that makes it difficult for a lot of families, probably not so much for RDI families. I think that RDI families are probably ahead of the game. But one of the things that makes it difficult is I hear parents saying, “I just have to keep entertaining my child.” My thought is, “No, you don’t have to keep entertaining your child. What are the kinds of things you can do where your child carries his own weight?”

Dr. Sheely: So I was thinking about ironing and I have to laugh about it because when I showed my grandson an iron, he said, “What’s that mamaw?” He had never seen an iron before. And I said, “This is something magic. It’s magic. When we put it on a blouse, the wrinkles go away.” He had no idea why you would want the wrinkles to go away.

Dr. Sheely: But we set up kind of a complimentary sequential pattern and he sprayed the shirt and I ironed the shirt and he’s too young to hold the iron but then I would spray and I would put my hand over his so it would have that kind of thing to do. There was a role for him and there was a role for me.

Dr. Sheely: I think even when we have really, really young children of different ages, I remember setting up or regulatory pattern with his younger sister who’s only 15 months and I handed her a puzzle piece. She took it to him, he put it in the puzzle and she came back to me for another piece.

Dr. Sheely: So everybody has something to do and I didn’t feel like I had to keep them laughing. Keep them joyful because we are inside but I think if we can get past that idea of entertainment and to even think about how children who may not play together that much all the time because they’re in school, how we can set it up for them to have jobs to do together or play together. It can take away that burden of entertaining off the parents.

Kat Lee: Dr. Sheely, what would you say for parents who are dealing with their children’s fear, maybe something they haven’t had to deal with before with their children?

Dr. Sheely: Well, I would be honest with them. I think it’s dangerous. I think I understand how you’re feeling and a lot of people feel that way. But you know, we’ve been listening to the important people who know what to do about this and that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing the things that we know to do.

Dr. Sheely: We’re keeping the house clean. We’re making sure that we wash our hands. We’re making sure that when we have vegetables that we clean the vegetables. We’re going to wipe off the top of cans; things we don’t often think about that much but we know what to do and we’re going to do those things all the time. We might even do it when it’s over because it’s a good way to live.

Dr. Sheely: But I’m not worried because I feel like you’re going to do your job and I’m going to do my job and we’re just going to be careful. We’re not going to worry and watch me, I’m going to take a deep breath. Okay, you do it with me. You’ll see how much better you feel and maybe even bring some laughter into it..

Kat Lee: Finally, I think even with difficult things there can be silver linings and one of them that you’ve talked about to our parents so much, but it just is for all parents is it is an opportunity to slow down and to slow down to go faster. I liked the thought of looking upon things that are difficult as having opportunities.

Dr. Sheely: I think there are opportunities and I don’t know about your house but I have so many opportunities for purging and I was thinking about that. To put, to gather things together, to go through the closets and pull out things that we might decide to donate to charity. To pull out the photos that have been waiting for years to be organized. Of course, we have cell phones now so it’s not a big deal, but we also have all of those photos.

Dr. Sheely: I was also thinking about things like board games and you know Katherine, I’m not a fan of board games. I think they’re static. I think they create the roles but you could play around with board games. Everybody has a role in a board game. You roll the dice and then you move. So we could change it. I roll the dice and you move. You roll the dice. I move. We’re going to start at the end and work backward. Chutes and Ladders. We’re going to go down the ladder and up the chutes. So you can play around with the games and they can become a little more creative than you would expect them to be. Be careful about changing rules too much because I’ve had some children I know very well who changed the rules to benefit their winning. I won’t mention any names in case they’re watching but I’ve had that happen.

Kat Lee: No names shall be mentioned and I couldn’t help when you talked about your house because I’d just been thinking about that garage that got to be managed and now more hands to do that with.

Dr. Sheely: You know Katherine, the other thing that I know about children is children like to work. They like real work. They don’t like to work by themselves. Go clean your room is different from let’s go organize your room. This is what I’ll do. I’m going to… So when you’re doing it together, there’s an experience sharing moment made available to you. You’re getting your house probably more orderly than it’s been for a few years. I mean that’s the way I’m finding it right now.

Dr. Sheely: I think it is an opportunity. Sadly, it’s an opportunity and we know how dangerous this Coronavirus is, but having said that, I feel that when we are responsible, when our children know that as a family, we get through hard times together and this is one of those hard times. Then when it’s over, we review that and say, “Remember what I said to you that we were going to be careful and we were going to do what the scientists told us to do and we did that and look, we’re okay as a family. We work together and get through hard times.”

Dr. Sheely: It’s a really wonderful lesson to learn. We don’t want those lessons. We don’t say, “Let’s create a hard time,” but imagine what our children learn about family and what it means to come together as a family, people who care about each other.

Kat Lee: Thanks for joining us for ASD, a new perspective, a podcast show where we help you understand the mind of your child and we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.


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