By: Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley Social Services Team
Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley’s family services team provides information, education, and support that address the concerns and stressors that may accompany having a child with a developmental delay or disability. In the past eleven months, these services and support for families were more vital than ever.
As we all gathered as much information about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as we could, it still left many unanswered questions, especially for children and caregivers, on how to communicate the potential illness changes. Social Worker Yvonne D. Anderson, LCSW, CADC, CODP II, shared many short stories to introduce resources and bring clarity and comfort to young children while their everyday routines are disrupted. Our team quickly pulled together resources on wearing masks, social stories for a number of situations, and indoor activity ideas. Many can be found here.
Mental Health Needs
We also helped parents and caregivers of children with disabilities face overwhelming demands and difficult decisions based on the pandemic, stress of remote learning and loss of usual supports. As a recent NPR story shares, “(Lindsey) is one of almost 3 million children in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with a serious emotional or behavioral health condition. When the pandemic forced schools and doctors’ offices closed last spring, it also cut children off from the trained teachers and therapists who understand their needs.”
We know there will continue to be elevated needs and all of our clinicians, parent liaisons and social workers are participating in specialized training to broaden our mental health support services and help keep children and their families emotionally strong.
June* is a 9-year-old girl who has been treated for the past four years for anxiety through monthly social work visits. Monthly visits were adequate to meet her needs and keep her anxiety at a level that did not affect her daily activities. However, due to continued difficulties with school, it was recommended that June obtain a Neuropsychological evaluation. The family had just completed the evaluation when the pandemic hit and home quarantine began, turning June’s world upside-down. (*All children’s name or other identifying information has been updated.)
In March 2020, June began receiving weekly social work services to reduce her feelings of anxiety and to cope with staying home, remote learning and separation from her grandparents. June shares a close relationship with her grandparents and was used to seeing them daily, and suddenly she was not allowed to see them at all. June went to school every day, but her school shut down when quarantine started, and she began remote learning. Remote learning intensified her difficulties at school, and she began to resist attending school. Then June started to have nightmares about her family contracting COVID and dying, resulting in difficulty sleeping.
In April 2020, June increased to social services twice a week, and her treatment focused on reducing her anxiety. The results of her Neuropsychological evaluation were received, and she was diagnosed with dyslexia and severe dyscalculia. June’s parents were assisted in finding tutors for June to help with her reading and math delays and working with her school to adjust her expectations. June attends a private school and did not have access to having an individualized education plan initiated. Her school needed to be educated on these disorders and understand how they affected June’s ability to comprehend math and reading.
June continued to work with social work services twice a week from May through December 2020, working on adjusting to her new diagnoses and how it impacted her school performance, reducing her anxiety, coping with COVID, and being separated from her extended family and friends.
With a lot of hard work, adjusting home and school expectations, developing safe ways to visit her grandparents and implementing new coping strategies, June has reduced her counseling visits back to once a week. Her Easterseals social worker has been a big part of her success. The social worker, school, tutors, and parents, all worked together to advocate for changes and help her apply coping strategies to reduce her anxiety.
Support for Virtual Learning & Socialization
Additionally, we found ways to assist families struggling to provide socialization and educational supports during their time at home. In one situation, a five-year-old with autism struggled with virtual learning and a new visual schedule helped the family manage school Zoom calls and other activities. By pairing mask wearing with screen time, it helped him get used to wearing a mask in order to successfully return to in-person learning.
Another child, Megan, needed support with safe socialization opportunities during the pandemic. By problem solving and working with the family, Megan was able to schedule virtual play dates, outdoor socially distanced scavenger hunts with neighbors, and more.
Support for Loss, Diagnosis and Care
One of the more difficult but vitally important aspects of caring for a child or adult with disabilities, is planning for care should something happen to a caregiver. During the pandemic, as parents realized their vulnerability in potentially contracting covid-19, we helped with guidance and resources to solidify care plans. While difficult, one set of parents planned for scenarios such as isolation from their seven-year-old medically fragile son if one of them became sick. Having a plan in place, helped ease the anxiety and the unknown of a virus we were all still learning about.
Many of our families have a large network of friends and family to support one another while caring for a loved one with disabilities. The pandemic cut off many of those support systems or diminished the ability to safely gather and care for one another in different households. Then, when a beloved grandparent ended up in the hospital for one of our families, they needed coping strategies to help with the inability to see their family member and more support after his passing. We were able to create new rituals for visiting virtually, help with saying goodbye and finding meaning in this difficult loss. These are tough concepts for any child and hard to understand when these visits and goodbye is virtual.
While a loss of a family member is difficult to process for all, we understand the loss of a job can also bring similar feelings of grief and anxiety to a family. As the primary wage earner in his family, when Josh was fired from his job, he felt lost and overwhelmed on how to help his family’s many needs. With the help of the social work team at Easterseals, he was connected with various resources from rent assistance, food pantries and free internet service to enable his children to attend school virtually.
One resource that has been helpful for families is Internet Essentials from Comcast, a low-cost, high-speed internet at home. During the stay-at-home order, a home Internet connection was more essential than ever for families. Comcast provides the Internet service and computers along with free training for the family. Families can get approved if they qualify for programs like the National School Lunch Program, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI and others. Learn more at: https://www.internetessentials.com/apply.
More than ever, we are reminded no one is truly alone at Easterseals. We fostered connections between families and found virtual opportunities to connect. We help reduce the many difficult child care decisions in a pandemic and find solutions that fit each family’s unique needs. Visit eastersealsdfvr.org or stay tuned to our Facebook page for more resources, parenting webinars and support in transitioning children back into school.