The COVID-19 situation has presented many parents with the new-found challenge of managing their child’s home-based learning (HBL). Families with children or adults with special needs also grapple with them, with a few added worries of their own, such as a sudden change of routine (which persons with special needs may find difficult to adjust to), as well as having to keep an eye on them constantly. In addition, another challenging responsibility may be to manage their family member’s HBL and online activities.
Our coaches at TOUCH Centre for Independent Living (TCIL) have been working tirelessly to develop online classes for their trainees and have also rounded up some simple guidelines to help caregivers during the circuit breaker period. Here are some tips from them.
1. If you are not tech-savvy, look for support.
With the short span of time to adapt to the current stay-at-home situation, many caregivers might be at a loss on what to do, especially in setting up video-conferencing platforms for HBL. Many do not have the technical support needed, nor do they know what HBL can look like for their child or family member. For TCIL, staff are assigned to provide the support needed for these caregivers which is supplemented by other helpful resources on HBL. MOE has released a parents kit resource on HBL. The Straits Times have also released a guide on the topic. NIE has provided some resources for teachers as well, which parents can use for personal HBL plans.
Do also find out how to have a secure video conferencing session here.
2. At the start, be with them in doing HBL
A caregiver’s involvement is crucial to ensure a pleasant learning experience. A person with special needs may not be well versed with online etiquette and internet safety, and may not be able to navigate independently online. Sitting in with your family member at the start ensures that they navigate the online space safely. It might also be a good time for bonding! For TCIL, caregivers are welcomed to join the trainees online too. One mother had joined in the sign language class with her child online, and both enjoyed the time spent together. After some time, your child will become more familiar with the online platform and may be able to engage in HBL more independently.
Although apps like Netflix and Youtube can be good teaching resources for HBL, a person with special needs may lack the ability to evaluate information. Caregivers will need to select content that is appropriate for them. To regulate screen-usage and prevent bad habits from forming, it is good to set a limit for screen time as well.
3. Have a dedicated space and proper set-up for both work and play
Some trainees who were using their mobile devices for HBL ended up moving around during the session. This affected the trainees’ attention during the session and distracted other trainees as well. Having dedicated spaces for work, play or rest will be helpful for a person with special needs to focus on HBL when it is time to. Drawing physical boundaries will also help them adjust to the new routine during this period.
4. Be mindful of their feelings and choices
While at home, persons with special needs might feel frustrated and anxious over the change in routine. Caregivers would need to pay attention to their feelings and encourage them to talk about it. It would also be helpful to explain the situation to them and assure them that things may be back to normal again in future.
Crafting a new routine for them will also give them some structure and predictability, which will help them cope with their anxiety. The new routine can also be an opportunity to do things together as a family, such as cleaning or cooking together.
Caregivers can also include their family members in some of the choices made during this period, such as meal selection. Offering choices to them is another form of empowerment and ownership which helps both parties cope with the stresses of staying at home.
5. Prepare them to transit back to their regular routine
Lastly, as persons with special needs would require more time to adjust back to their regular routine after the circuit breaker period ends, caregivers need to spend more time to prepare them for this transition.
This includes talking about the transition on multiple occasions, telling them what to expect when it is time to switch back to the regular routine. Caregivers may also need to help them re-adjust back to normal sleep timings. Having a routine that includes activities and timings similar to pre-circuit breaker period will help ease the transition.