Free, practical solutions provided by the national charity also include a Facebook support group and DIY home sensory kit advice
Top advice from the experts is also provided for lockdown families
Pod-Ability was designed to offer in-depth discussion, practical signposting and solutions to address the complex challenges faced by parents and families of disabled children. At the moment, these challenges are more profound than ever.
Two dedicated episodes now provide practical advice and support, hosted remotely over Skype by Dave King, Variety’s Head of Programmes. Subjects cover managing your child’s sensory needs and supporting the mental health of disabled children under lockdown. More episodes are currently being planned and will help guide parents through the minefield of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the impact its developments have on parents and families of SEND children.
Guests on the two podcasts include Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice, parents to twins Levi and Lucas, both of whom have autism, among other conditions, Zoe Mailloux, an internationally renowned expert in the subject of sensory integration and Tamsin Cottis, an Integrative Child Psychotherapist, author and the UK’s leading provider of psychotherapy to children and adults with learning disabilities. Joining for the second episode is Rosalind Grainger, a psychotherapist and mother to 13-year-old Esja who has a learning disability.
Whilst it is important to note that not all suggestions will work for everyone, advice shared in the podcasts includes:
Managing your child’s sensory needs
- Being home all day is an opportunity for your child to learn and practice life skills. Instead of thinking ‘my child couldn’t possibly handle this task’, try and engage them in daily life routines like mopping the floor, washing windows, folding laundry and carrying groceries – tasks that involve pressure on the joints
- Allowing your child to watch activities they’ve done in the past might be engaging to them
- Try setting aside 10 or 15 minutes every day where one adult is with one child, with no distractions. You can try keeping a special box of activities that you use only for that time. The predictability of knowing that they’re going to have that time with one adult, every day, makes a difference to a child
Using the crisis as an opportunity to learn about your child
- Put on your ‘detective hat’ and watch what kinds of activities your child is drawn to – what are they liking?
- Be on the lookout for things you didn’t think your child could do, that they suddenly can do. Take some notes to capture your new insights and strategies
- Try journaling during this time: when does your child seem at their best, most calm, organised and focused? And what kinds of activities precede these great moments?
- Try to keep a similar routine and timetable to the one your child had at school
- However, parents are not teachers and can’t be expected to manage the level of structure you find in a school setting. But to abandon it altogether is to give in to chaos which will make it difficult to manage the day and will also not do your child any favours when we move out of the current crisis. Try to keep a balance between keeping structure and giving everyone a little leeway, while not being too hard on yourselves
Looking after yourself as a parent and managing your expectations
- Reset your expectations regarding what you can do. Nothing about the current situation is ‘regular’ or normal or uncomplicated. And it’s new to everybody – nobody’s done it before.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Know that you’re doing the best that you can – keep expectations of yourself realistic
- Remember how much you’re doing to keep your child safe, to understand them and to give them a loving home
On listening and empathising with your child
- The most important thing is empathy and being in the same feeling-state as your child. You don’t have to make it all okay. It’s more important, especially for children who have difficulty putting things into words, to know that you get how they’re feeling
- Use everything in your voice to let your child know that do understand. Even if a child can’t understand every word, the feeling in the words will get through
On helping your child bear separation
- Knowing that they’re being remembered and held in mind is key to coping with separation for a child, ask your child’s teachers to make a video of themselves doing something familiar in their school environment
On using play and storytelling to help your child express emotions
- Children can be encouraged to express their emotions through play You can try a game where the child uses objects to ‘make’ the world as they wish it was. This might throw up what they’re really missing right now, and get their feelings out
On discussing difficult subjects with your child
- Days when you are freaked out yourself, are not the time to talk to your child about what’s happening, resilience comes from the adults not ‘freaking out’. It’s not necessarily just telling children something difficult or frightening that has an impact but the way that a child hears something that is key to how stressed they will become
- Children are often more resilient than their parents think they are. If their key attachment figures are with them most of the time, they’re going to be able to take a lot in their stride
On challenging your child
- Sometimes you need to do the thing that feels harder, which is challenging your child with something new, rather than going for the tried-and-tested activities you know your child will tolerate
- It’s important to allow disabled children to take risks, which they’re often not allowed to do, because they get risk-assessed and wrapped up in cotton wool
On managing conflicts, outbursts and frustration
- When frustration is being expressed sibling-to-sibling, you obviously have to intervene to ensure that no one child feels frightened or ‘got at’ by another child. You can say: “It’s never okay to hurt your brother, but I do get how angry you feel – we just have to find another way.”
- Find ways for children to discharge feelings physically if they don’t have the words to express things, like jumping up and down or climbing things
The podcasts come along with a series of other useful initiatives the charity has created in reaction to the crisis. These include a closed, moderated Facebook group that complements the podcasts, enabling parents of disabled children to discuss each episode with a degree of privacy and confidentiality, building a safe and supportive community. A campaign to provide 500 free home Sensory Starter Kits saw Variety become inundated with requests, leading to an initiative that gives advice and tips regarding household items that can be used to create DIY Home Sensory Kits.
Dave King, Variety’s Head of Programmes and host of the latest episodes adds: “We wanted to create a tool that was practical and offered not only good advice but also emotional support and community. Parents and families of disabled children are time poor so creating podcasts with world-class guests that can be downloaded and listened to at the most convenient time is something we are very proud of. We are determined to keep on delivering the same level of support for those that need it at each step of the Covid-19 crisis, whatever twists and turns it may take”
Pod-Ability isthe podcast from Variety addressing the challenges faced by parents and families of disabled children. Available to download now from https://www.variety.org.uk/pod-ability and from iTunes