Online Learning

Hello everyone! Hopefully everyone is staying safe and indoors during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Due to this situation, a lot of kids around the world have had their definition of school change. For a highschooler like me, this means live video call lectures, using online platforms to submit assignments, and having every aspect of school go digital. If such a drastic change is made for someone like me, what does online learning mean for a special needs child? How has Anjali’s learning through school changed while at home? Let’s dive into these questions.

Here’s another article about the topic of online learning for special needs students. The Touro College blog analyzes the feasibility of online learning for such students. Picture credit and article link: http://blogs.onlineeducation.touro.edu/5-ways-online-learning-can-benefit-special-needs-learners/

In my previous post, titled Pandemic Precautions, I covered the educational routine that we have maintained for Anjali while she is home. However, this did not cover what activities the school has planned for Anjali during the shelter-in-place. A few weeks after I put up that post, schools in our area officially switched to online learning for the rest of the year. This prompted Anjali’s teacher to create a comprehensive lesson plan for all the students in Anjali’s class. This involves sending out multiple reading platforms and games to be completed by the child with parental help, regularly sending out video lessons, and maintaining communication with parents in order to keep track of the progress each student is making during this time period. Our school district even provided us with an iPad for Anjali’s learning during this time period! I had also mentioned briefly in my last post that we are voluntarily continuing a few of the ABA, speech, and occupational therapy activities with Anjali, such as making puzzles. Anjali’s therapists have started doing weekly live calls where they conduct activities and check in with the progress of each child. Overall, we believe that both the school and therapists have done a comprehensive job when it comes to maximizing learning for Anjali, but this new routine also requires effort from our ends to make sure online-learning is sufficient for Anjali’s development.

Anjali has been using Khan Academy as a resource, since it was reccomended by her school. Such free resources can be used by parents to mantain learning of students while at home. Photo credit: https://keeplearning.khanacademy.org/

Clearly, Anjali is benefitting from a robust online learning plan implemented by her school and therapists. While thinking about this topic, I realized most special needs children across the country may not have access to such amenities, as I have explained in prior posts such as State Services. What can a parent of a special needs child in that position do? Clearly maintaining an educational routine during this time period is important for all special needs children, since not having any learning for the remaining 3 months of the school year would prove to be disastrous for overall development of any special needs child. In my opinion, the only route a parent can take to maintain learning for their special needs child is setting up their own learning schedule for the child, if the ones provided by school and therapists prove to be inadequate. Many free tools are available for parents when it comes to tutoring special needs children at home, such as Khan Academy and other platforms (no such platform has sponsored this post). Overall, it is clear that during the lockdown many parents with special needs children will have to put in extra effort towards maintaining study routines for their kids, and keeping up with the online-learning provided by schools and therapists. 

Pandemic Precautions

Hello everyone! This post will be regarding perhaps the biggest news topic of the year. Yes, I am talking about the Coronavirus pandemic. More specifically, I’ll cover what our family is doing to keep Anjali and everyone else safe. Along with this, we will also dive into what our future outlook should be regarding this viral pandemic.

DO THE FIVE: [wash hands, cough into elbows, don’t touch your face, stay more than 3 feet apart, and stay home if you feel sick]” are the major tips from the World Health Organization. Of course, the recommendation of keeping three feet space is difficult to follow when parenting a special needs child (we are still trying our best though). Besides that, our family is following all these tips in order to maintain hygiene and keep Anjali safe. Touching one’s face is a problem that not only Anjali but any special needs child with sensory needs faces. Instead of her chin, stress relief rubber items always serves a good substitute for Anjali to apply pressure on with her hands. We have also limited the times Anjali leaves home, but not at the cost of her much needed exercise routine. Anjali is still taken for bicycle rides around the neighborhood, but her visits to marketplaces have been stopped. Due to this outbreak, Anjali’s ABA and speech therapy have been canceled for two weeks, along with her school. Not having this work-period badly hurts her daily routine. In order to keep Anjali focused, we have to conduct therapy and academic activities with her. These may involve solving puzzles or completing reading homework with her. These are greatly needed for her to release energy and remain focused during this two week period.

Washing hands, along with other great tips, are discussed in this Autism Speaks article about the impact of coronavirus on the special needs community.

Clearly, the pandemic has greatly changed Anjali’s and our lives, even if only for a temporary period. Due to such changes, many parents might panic about what the future holds regarding the impact of this virus. To those people, I have one word to say: relax. Try to understand your special needs child’s routine, and what parts are altered due to therapy and school cancellations. Try to continue those activities with the child, even though a professional is not there to do it with them. As for hygiene, the same rules apply to all of us. Follow instructions of public health officials, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and stay away from gatherings. Following these simple rules can keep not just the special needs child safe, but all individuals around us safe. 

Sensory Showtime!

Happy holidays everyone! While a lot of us here in the United States and the western world are bombarded with Christmas decorations and events throughout our local areas, my family was excited about one specific event. Our local mall had a sensory-friendly Santa meetup for kids with sensory needs. Anjali falls under this group of children, and I was very grateful that this community of kids was not excluded from these festive events. Is a sensory-friendly Santa common? What events are sensory-friendly throughout the year? What does it even mean for an event to be “sensory-friendly?” All of these questions popped up in my head and I set out for answers. I hope this post can help family members of special needs children find these events and for others to understand the importance of these events.

Sensory-friendly Santa can be a stress-free environment for a special-needs child. Explore options such as the ones provided by https://www.autismspeaks.org/santa#CA. Picture credit: https://cbceducation.net/autism-speaks-sensory-friendly-santa/

First of all, what does it mean for an event to be “sensory-friendly?” A simpler explanation would involve first looking at the word “sensory.” Many special needs children are sensitive to the sounds, lights, or colors of their environment. For example, the bustling noise of people in a mall may seem normal to us but might have an impact of greater magnitude on a special needs child. This is specifically the case with Anjali. Each special-needs child has unique sensory needs. Another example is explained by Jennifer Lovy when she writes for the Friendship Circle Organization about how her son’s sensory-friendly birthday party meant “no loud music, no dark skating rink, and no flashing lights.” The formal definition for a sensory-friendly or autism-friendly event is explained by The Place for Children With Autism as an “environment [that is] . . . moderate and structured. If you’re curious about the environmental accommodations available for a sensory-friendly event, always ask to make sure you or your child’s needs can be met before attending.” With a clear understanding of what a sensory-friendly event is, we can now look at the different options of events throughout the year.

This chart by beacons unique.com fully shows the sensory impact an environment can have on a child.

I’ll start off this list of events by making it clear that I am by no means endorsing any of these events. Nor am I suggesting every family should participate in Christmas events. I am simply informing that many entertainment options exist for special needs children. An example of this a sensory-friendly Santa. Business Wire writes about this growing trend and the “partnership between Cherry Hill Programs and Autism Speaks. Together, they are presenting an unprecedented 741 events in 581 shopping destinations across the U.S. and Canada on November 24, December 1 and 8, 2019.” The festive Christmas season isn’t the only time sensory needs are considered for special-needs kids. AMC theaters have partnered with the Autism Society to offer “[a] Sensory Friendly Film program  . . . available on the second and fourth Saturday (family-friendly) and Tuesday evenings (mature audiences) of every month. Please check your local theatre listings for specific showtimes.” The Friendship Circle Organization shares more events including “a number of Major League Baseball teams [offering] sensory friendly evenings (often on Autism Awareness Night) . . . [and] local Pump It Up [continuining] to offer sensory jumps once a month”

Movies can be a sensory rollercoaster for a special-needs child. AMC and other theaters run sensory friendly shows that are a great alternative for a special needs child.

These events are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of sensory-friendly activities across the country. The point I am trying to make through this post is how necessary these events are. We take for granted how our bodies and senses aren’t sensitive to the everyday sounds and sights of the world. These same aspects of society are bothersome to almost every special-needs or ASD child. Despite this, these children still deserve a variety of entertainment options just like us. So the next time you consider watching a movie or going to your local Christmas event I hope you consider options that accommodate for your special needs child. The following is a helpful link to find sensory-friendly events for your child: https://www.autismspeaks.org/events. I hope this article helped others learn about the sensory needs of special needs children and understand the importance of these events. Best of luck to all for 2020!

Vacations

Hello everyone! Summer vacations are right around the corner, so I want to use this opportunity to explain how vacations unfold for our family. Our planning for vacations is drastically different, given Anjali’s condition. Families with special needs children, such as mine, have many unique and odd experiences on a vacation. This post will cover some of ours.  

My family’s preparation and packing for vacations is different and much more extensive. We have to be mindful of Anjali’s special diet, hence often need a kitchen at our destination. For example, my sister was following a gluten-free diet a few years ago. This required us to pack food like rice and other non-gluten items for our trip.  Besides catering to Anjali’s diet, our packing contained many items to keep her engaged during long drives. One such item is a CD player, and a large collection of Barney CD’s, as well as many books for Anjali to read. These items are absolutely necessary to keep Anjali engaged during road trips, such as when we drove to Los Angeles to go to Disneyland. Perhaps the most important items we have to keep are items that cater to Anjali’s sensory needs. Examples of these include straws, stress balls, and crunchy snacks.These experiences are just a small glimpse into the extensive packing our family has to do, in order to keep Anjali comfortable during a vacation.

Another factor that plays a role in our vacations is how the limitations of Anjali restricts the limits of our family’s vacation as a whole. One example of this is when we traveled to Yosemite National Park. All of the specifics of our trip, including where we stayed and our agenda for each day, was designed in order to fit Anjali’s limits. We could not stay at a cabin in the valley, which sacrificed an easier commute to many viewpoints. The viewpoints themselves were only the ones that were accessible by road, as hiking was certainly not an option.

Some of you might be wondering why I have only covered the obstacles of our vacations? It is true that the required preparation and the limitations on our travels can be frustrating at times. There have also been times when we failed to meet her needs or did not consider her endurance during these trips. Those moments sometimes have led to Anjali responding with embarrassing public meltdowns. Despite all of this, I would like to finish by talking about the most important aspect of our vacations with Anjali. That would be the many wonderful memories we have created with her. Let me refer back to the road trip that required excessive packing. The first memory our family has from that trip is Anjali gazing out into the passing landscape of Highway 5, not the long hours of packing. At Yosemite National Park, we remember Anjali enjoying the sounds of the Yosemite river, not the long commute we had to enter the park each morning.

Many of these memories include instances when Anjali surprised us all with how much enjoyed the outdoors. Our trip to Lake Tahoe revealed how Anjali enjoyed playing in the snow. We were pleasantly surprised when Anjali insisted on treading through shallow waters at Zion National Park. This shows how many children like Anjali will forget their limitations, and simply enjoy the moment. Through these beautiful moments and surprises, Anjali taught us how we can stop worrying and enjoy the moment. Just like her. In conclusion, vacations with special needs children, like Anjali, require different preparations but still create the same wonderful memories.