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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.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.