For children like my son Armaan, who are non-verbal and use AAC devices and/or sign language to interact and communicate, long distance learning and socializing during the era of COVID-19 can be very challenging. Being isolated at home due to the pandemic limits their sociability and learning opportunities immensely. Given the range of technology that we have at our disposal today, there are many creative ways to help our kids to have an element of socializing, as well as learning/ practicing different skills, during these challenging times.
Not being able to meet/have any physical contact with his sitters, friends, therapist and caretakers is very confusing to Armaan, as it is for all children who are visually and cognitively impaired. So to keep some kind of connection, normalcy and continuity, in late March I introduced two things to his homebound daily life:
A Daily Schedule. A daily routine provides Armaan with a routine to follow as well as helps him anticipate his daily tasks.
In that blog, I shared some thoughts on how to create a Daily Schedule, without creating too much work for yourself. A daily schedule gives your child’s day a structure, to help them practice and maintain their learned skills and to help your child anticipate activities. It keeps them engaged and motivated. Depending on the needs of the child and parent preferences and time/availability, The Daily Schedule can be very structured or loosely structured. Pl check the link above for more details on that.
A daily FaceTime /Zoom meeting with his sitter/teacher/therapist - A virtual learning system that has allowed Armaan to socialize, communicate and learn in a playful manner.
Armaan uses Proloquo2Go (a communication App on his Ipad) and very limited sign language to communicate and socialize. For the zoom meetings, I use both his iPad with the communication App and my laptop. The laptop is used to stream the zoom meetings, and the iPad is used for his communication system (see photo of Armaan using his iPad to communicate below). Our zoom meetings are structured (and require facilitation) and we keep these meetings to 1.5 hours. The meetings can include a number of different activities, thus providing Armaan a great opportunity for choice making.
The key categories that the activities fall in are: Recreation, skill building and socializing.
Recreation: Music, dancing, coloring, Bingo
Skill building: Communication skills ( using the Communication App/device to talk, learning ASL) , fine and gross motor skills ( beadwork, puzzles)
Socialization: Even though he is interacting vis a screen, it makes for social time for Arman. And he gets to practice his social skills ( greeting etc), as he would in person (see photo of Armaan’s iPad below).
Since most children are cut off from their friends, sitters/care takers, teachers and their extended family members. A structured video call like this can provide them with an opportunity to practice their Communication and Social skills.
Some tips for the video calls:
You will need your child’s communication device or system (check with your child’s Speech-Language Pathologists or Special Education teacher) as well as a lap-top or computer.
- Keep the activity choices simple and appropriate.
- A parent/adult will be required to facilitate the activities.
- Be sure to keep skill-building goals in mind when offering choices to the child.
- Make it a choice-making opportunity.
- Make it fun by adding mini breaks (in between skill-building activities) like playing music or reading a short story together!