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How I've Managed Homeschooling a Child With Autism During The Coronavirus

5 Min Read
Lifestyle

When the coronavirus outbreak hit New York City, I was terrified. I work for a social service agency in an office building in lower Manhattan, and I was in a panic over being exposed and, even worse, bringing the virus home to my children. My older son Trey is 13 and on the Autism Spectrum, and my daughter Aja, who is 8, were both still in school at the time. I had been advocating to work from home for more than a week because of an underlying autoimmune condition — I received no response. I had to make an executive decision for the safety of my family. I decided on a Friday afternoon that I would not go back to the office. By the following Tuesday, all non-essential workers were ordered to stay home.

There was an initial period of adjustment. My husband works in law enforcement so as a first responder he was quarantined from all of us out of an abundance of caution. While this new normal allowed me the opportunity to spend more time with the kids, I had to reconcile the anxiety I was feeling transitioning from social worker to teacher, all while trying to keep them safe. There was no hiding from the daily news reports of people getting sick and dying from the coronavirus by the hundreds each day.

Trey was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Mixed Receptive Expressive-Language Disorder at five years old. Autistic children are used to having a set routine and the lockdown threw a major monkey wrench into his. I had so many questions: how would he adjust to not taking the bus to school in the morning? Not seeing his classmates or teachers? How did he feel about the coronavirus? Did he fully understand how dangerous it is?

I had to reconcile the anxiety I was feeling transitioning from social worker to teacher, all while trying to keep them safe. There was no hiding from the daily news reports of people getting sick and dying from the coronavirus by the hundreds each day.

Trey struggled to speak in full sentences and interact with other kids his age as a child. Being a teenager in middle school, he has made tremendous strides verbally, and it is more important than ever that he continue to socialize. I feared the lack of camaraderie with his peers would make him regress. How would I do my work and fill in the gaps in a day where he would normally be occupied in a classroom? I was used to saving the lives of other children in the foster care system, but now taking care of Trey's educational and emotional needs demanded that I utilize my skills in multitasking more than ever.

A typical day in the Samuels' household begins with our morning prayer. On certain days, after the kids get ready for school, they would both help me prepare breakfast. Before the pandemic hit, this was a sweet routine I shared with Trey. Being that my grandmother lived with us, he was raised with Jamaican traditions. Everyday, the scents of warm, delicious spices and good, home-cooked meals fill the air. His love for food is rooted in the different Caribbean cuisine he experiences.

After he eats, Trey makes sure to log into his remote learning site exactly at 8 AM each morning. I allow him the space to complete his work independently while periodically checking in on him. Before his school transitioned to Google classrooms, Trey was still afforded the services of his Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). He has a set schedule for speech therapy and his communication counseling session. Both of these sessions are held with a group of his classmates. For half an hour a day, he is able to see and talk with his friends. The teachers do a great job of asking open-ended questions that allow them to converse. Still, 30 minutes is completely different from 8 hours, and eating lunch in our dining room is not the same as the school cafeteria.

One saving grace has been Trey's love of music. Autistic kids' physical disability on the surface tend to heighten some other abilities. Trey has the extraordinary talent to hear music. He and his sister were taking music lessons before the crisis and continue to do so online. It was vital for us to foster his talent, so he plays the guitar, piano, drums, and violin. We have a keyboard set up in our living room and Trey would sit in front of it at random times of the day and play gospel songs by ear. It became clear that music functions also as a type of therapy for him.

Our family was dealt another devastating blow when my grandmother died of congestive heart failure on April 7th in our home. While Trey looked sad, he did not show any outward display of emotion. He had never experienced a loss of this magnitude. Rooted in the pandemic was the vast reality that a conversation about life and death was necessary. How would I communicate something so heartbreaking to a child whose smile filled a room? The death of our matriarch was yet another interruption to his daily routine.

Rooted in the pandemic was the vast reality that a conversation about life and death was necessary. How would I communicate something so heartbreaking to a child whose smile filled a room?

Trey and my grandma had a special bond that was unexplainable. Despite not showing the emotion to display his anguish, I would observe him wandering in and out of her room. My first instinct was to protect him from my pain, however I realized showing my vulnerability could help him understand the gravity of the moment. Still while Aja and I cried for days, his grief came in the form of physical pain such as headaches and stomach aches. One morning he helped me make French toast, and in that simple task I saw the joy return to his face. Trey says he wants to be a chef, and it is his love of food that has allowed him to return to a sense of normalcy.

This pandemic will forever shape my family. Despite the added responsibility, it afforded me the time to reconnect with Trey. I was allowed to pause and reflect on his personal growth and learned that he is not as fragile as I thought.

Three Tips for Parents who are Homeschooling

Pray

With the uncertainty of the pandemic and the excessive loss of life that has ravaged our communities, we are grateful for the opportunity to be together during these troubling times. I suggest taking a few minutes out of your day to come together as a family and count your blessings. Every morning my family holds a prayer call where we read scriptures, sing songs, and each member says a personal prayer to God thanking Him for all He has done for us.

My first instinct was to protect him from my pain, however I realized showing my vulnerability could help him understand the gravity of the moment.

Self-care

We are so concerned about our children that sometimes we forget to do the little things for ourselves like wash our own hair, exercise, or rest. It is important for kids to see that you are taking care of yourself. They are taking the lead from you and watching how you are navigating through this crisis.

Family Time

While getting schoolwork done is a priority, it is also important to spend leisure time together. On Friday nights and weekends, we either watch movies on Disney+ or play board games. On a nice day, we allow the kids to ride their scooters. The goal is to allow kids to be themselves as much as possible since their outdoor activities are limited.

This article was originally published June 11, 2020.

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.

Pre-Read

When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.

Highlight

Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.

Summarize

If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.