Family-Led Therapy Time – Making the Most out of Home Quarantine
COVID-19 has forced therapy clinics to close for a month, an unprecedented event for the past 22 years that we have been serving families of children with special needs. As a healthcare facility, we remained open even in the midst of typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, transportation strikes and all other reasons for class suspensions. Therapists working with children have an amazing sense of purpose and passion for what they do. They’ll overcome odds just to be able to handle their patients and work with their families in order to reach their goals. You can just imagine our shock at the enhanced community quarantine announcement that has left us no choice but to close indefinitely, until such time that we are able to fulfill our therapy duties once again.
How do we make the most out of adversity? What good can come out of such a difficult situation that has provoked anxiety, fear and panic over the present and the future as well? No therapy for one month! Do we risk regression and can we sustain the gains we have worked so hard for all those months and years of therapy prior to the lockdown?
The answer is a resounding and confident “YES”! As we have always emphasized during therapy sessions, the family’s role in facilitating the child’s development is critical to attaining therapy goals. Parents remain to be the first and most influential teacher in a child’s life at all stages of his development. They are and should be the experts when it comes to their children, with the therapy team playing supportive roles at different times and contexts.
Home quarantine gives parents the gift of TIME. When before the quarantine measures, work demands pushed parents to leave the house early, come home tired and beaten from traffic, and whirl through busy weekends to catch up on chores and social commitments, they now have precious time in their hands. Surprisingly lots of it for most of us used to the busy pace of work, errands and commitments outside the home. This is the best time to start taking the lead in following-through on therapy activities at home and being the child’s main teacher.
Here are some PRACTICAL TIPS for PARENTS to get things started:
1. Set a TIME daily for your home therapy session, ideally when the child is well-rested, his tummy full, and after a relaxing bath to get the day started. This can be anywhere from 20 mins to 1 hour (or even more!), depending on your child’s attention and sitting span.
2. Prepare his therapy SPACE and all the TOYS and LEARNING MATERIALS you need. Make sure the space is free from distractions (not just for your child, but also for you!). The things you will need should be organized and within reach. Do not scatter them on the mat or table, but present them one at a time according to your planned activities.
3. Choose which of the GOALS you would like to focus on for the day. Do not be pressured to address multiple goals at a time. You can just focus on 1 to 3 goals depending on your priority goals. You can refer to your child’s initial assessment or the latest progress report from his therapy team. Start with the easier goals that you can address with fun and interesting activities.
4. Plan on ACTIVITIES that your child would most likely engage in. Build on his interests. If he likes cars, use cars to address your goals. Don’t force him to play with toys he is not interested in. Start with familiar items, then slowly introduce new activities that he might learn to like. You can address interrelated developmental goals with just one activity. Using cars, you can address language, fine-motor, socioemotional and even cognitive skills.
5. To sustain his engagement, be sensitive to your child’s CUES. If he seems to be losing interest, shift to another activity. Alternate easy and difficult tasks. There is a technique called sandwiching – wherein you start with a cool activity, insert a not-so-preferred one aiming to address your goals, then end with a fun activity, just to keep your child’s attention.
Do not give up! You may find things awkward at first shifting from Daddy / Mommy to Teacher Daddy / Teacher Mommy, but you’ll get your groove soon. Just keep on trying day after day, making adjustments to any of the variables mentioned above (time, space & materials, goals, activities, cues). The beauty of family-led therapy time is in its flexibility. Since you’re at home, it’s your child’s natural environment where he is most secure and happy. Same with you! You are at home with your family, doing therapy like you’ve never been able to do before because of your busy schedules. This home quarantine thing has its benefits after all.