Social Distancing isn’t New for Special Needs Parents

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I know a bit about social distancing. As a special needs parent, many of us were distancing before it was mainstream. Being a special needs parent can feel lonely at times. Party invitations we turn down. Playdates our kids are not invited to. The mom groups that we have little in common with. We are no strangers to isolation.

Tape measure showing distance

Perhaps what we are doing today is better described as physical distancing. Staying 6 feet apart to slow the spread of COVID- 19. That doesn’t take away from being social, it just modifies the way we do it.

Some jobs are not meant for distancing

The need for physical distancing is the cause for suspension of important services like PT, OT and other important therapies. It’s causing regression, despite our best efforts to fill in the gaps. Teletherapy is hard when a kiddo needs hands-on prompting or tactile input.

Even as states and special education classrooms reopen, parents will face the hurdle of helping our kids understand the 6 foot rule, how to properly wash hands and why masks need to be worn. In fact, masks may not be accepted at all by those with sensory issues. Kids who struggle to understand emotions will no longer have facial prompts to help.

Some jobs simply are not made for physical distancing. The kind of help our kids often require means 1:1 help, usually with a classroom aide, and not from 6 feet away. As much as my kiddo needs school, I struggle to understand how they can reasonably maintain physical distance to keep everyone safe. In the meantime, I’m using social stories to help teach hand washing, cough etiqutte, distancing and wearing a mask. (Get printable social stories here)

Physical distancing, social connection

As for social connections? Well, being a special needs parent means knowing how to pivot. We’re good at learning different ways to do things. Figuring out how to do routine things in a non-routine kinda way. This pandemic has shown me more ways to connect than ever before. I am more intentional about reaching out to others.

Friends from our special needs circle have reached out by phone, text or Facebook message to see how we’re holding up. My neighbor dropped of puzzles for my girls. Now more than ever we need to support and encourage each other as we fill the shoes of therapists and teachers.

I appreciate the teachers who have facilitated zoom calls so my kiddo can see her friends, or orchestrated drive by visits so she sees a familiar face. Especially at a time where her security of a much needed daily routine is gone.

Not an easy time, for anyone

I am not suggesting that anything about this pandemic has been easy. Many special needs families are in desparate need of support services. My husband and I have worked full time as ‘essential,’ while the boundaries between work and home have eroded to a very uncomfortable level (a topic for another blog post). Watching my kiddo regress both saddens and angers me. The reality is, vulnerable populations are not faring well, overall.

All that said, I work at being a glass-half-full kind of person (for my own well-being). With that, the silver lining that I see? I am going out of my way to make social connections because of physical distancing, and I’ve seen others do it too. Perhaps as a special needs parent, we have a bit more empathy for what isolation feels like. And, perhaps we’ll make a few lasting connections that will leave us feeling less isolated in the future.

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