As I write this it’s March 28, 2020, and COVID-19 has caused all of us to take a new look at everything in our lives. And we autism grandparents of course have special challenges. What can we do to be most helpful? And what SHOULD we do to prepare for today and for the weeks and months ahead? Each of us has a unique set of circumstances. I wonder if my own four areas of priority attention match those of other autism grandparents.
First, a brief reminder of my situation. My granddaughter, Angelina, just turned 4 years old. I keep Angelina when her single-mom mother, Kelly, is working at her full-time nursing job in a major hospital. Angelina is generally happy and healthy and is currently predicted to be high-functioning. Angelina is enrolled in an ABA “school” but it has closed due to the virus.
COVID-19 is not yet experiencing a major eruption in my city, but it’s coming.
Here are my four basic areas of fundamental focus right now.
Communicating constantly with Kelly to determine plans for now and for the forthcoming virus-influenced months. Plans that involve a variety of questions. Given that Angelina will be away from school for awhile, should we put in place school-like things for her at home? What is the protocol for OUR social distancing within our family? Etc.
Searching the internet for helpful information. I’ve learned that the Autism Society of America’s website (autism-society.org) has a COVID-19 Toolkit that’s organized into the following six topics: “Mental Health & Respite,” “Modifying Routines,” “Lifestyle Supports,” “Education,” “Public Policy,” and “Facebook LIVE.” The Mental Health & Respite section, for example, provides a link to a site that lists organizations that can provide respite support and that can be searched geographically. It lists 53 organizations that are within 50 miles of my house. The Mental Health & Respite section also provides a link to the AARP’s Family Caregiver Hotline. The Facebook LIVE section, for example, is offering a March 31 meeting on “Continuing School Work and Education at Home.” My local Autism Society ’s website also provides helpful resources, including offering “Virtual Support Groups” for various categories of autism caregivers. And the website of Autism Speaks (autismspeaks.org) of course offers important resources. For example, there’s a 3/24/20 article entitled, “Priorities for the Autism Community During this Time of Crisis,” a 3/13/20 article entitled, “How to cope with disrupted family routines during COVID-19,” and another entitled, “How to handle school closures and services for your child with autism.”
Preparing my household for much greater visitation by my granddaughter. Now with Angelina’s school closed, she is at my house at least 50 hours each week - including overnight whenever Kelly works the night shift. Prior to COVID-19 Angelina was in school 6 1/2 hours every weekday. School is now closed for an undetermined number of weeks/months. I’ve bought additional clothes, groceries that Angelina likes, and other staples that help care for Angelina - all to lessen the burden of Kelly having to bring a big bag of stuff each time she brings Angelina. I’m slowly transforming the areas of our home where Angelina spends most of her time - transforming them to be less boring, more engaging, even more educational. And I’m doing the same with our tiny yard.
Being proactive on how I can further lessen the burden on Kelly. JC and I are already very supportive in lots of ways, but are there additional things we can do? Buying additional clothes for Angelina to have when she’s at our house is something we hadn’t done before. Offering for Angelina to stay overnight sometimes even when Kelly isn’t working the night shift is something we’re now doing. We’re trying to think of more as I write this . . .
COVID-19 will result in a fundamental change for our society. We autism grandparents can provide significant assistance and resources to help our children and their children adjust and even thrive.