Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA, LBA. 6.2.20
The information keeps flooding us, day after day more news and conflicting information about coronavirus. In my last post I talked about doing what you can each day. This time I will be turning the focus a bit back to children, and coping with the next phase of the pandemic when you have kids at home.
It seems to me that the new challenge for many of us will be deciding what to do. As restrictions start to loosen up in many states, the decisions about how to proceed with venturing back into the social world will be up to each of us, individually. Some may look to their family for guidance, or follow the lead of trusted friends. Others will do what they want or what they think is best based on what os happening in their area, or within their own family.
For people who have been home with their children for over two months, it will be tempting to jump back into life as usual as much and as soon as possible. There may also be some pressure for allowing playdates and other friend interactions, This pressure may come from your own children or it may come from their friends, or both. How will you navigate this next phase of the global pandemic?
As with many difficult decisions and tasks, it might be helpful to break these questions down a bit before you decide anything. Each thing you and your family do going forward will be based on your own personal calculation of the risks involved. What are some things to consider?
Most importantly, consider your family health risk. Are you or anyone in your family at greater risk for complications based on current health conditions? Do you care for someone who is at greater risk? If the answer to any of these is yes, it might be in your best interest to continue to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others who are re-integrating into the world.
If you are at low or average risk for complications due to COVID, think about some basic common-sense measures you can take to protect yourself, your family, and others.
- Social Bubbles. This is a concept based on the idea that it is safe to spend time with other people who have been practicing the same level of safe behavior as yourself. Do you have friends and family who have been working from home, rigorously distancing themselves from others, wearing masks out in public, and avoiding gatherings? If you have set a certain standard for yourself these past few months, and you know others with the same standards, they are likely safe to be with now. Here are a couple of recent articles on forming your own Social Bubble:
- Maintaining your own social distancing rules. Do you have friends or family who have been less careful than you? Do you know others who have had to go into a public work environment? As states ease restrictions and you want to see these friends, consider social-distancing gatherings. Sit on a deck or a patio, stay 6 feet away, bring your own food and drink.
- Be careful in public. Yes, I know we still have mixed information on masks and how long the virus lives in the air and on surfaces. We – the public – do not know a lot more now than we did when this all started. But some studies are definitely showing a benefit to universal masks to reduce transmission if worn correctly. This means you •put it on • stop touching it • don’t touch your face • still maintain a safe distance from others • continue to wash or sanitize your hands after touching things in public • leave the mask on to talk, sneeze, cough (I actually heard about a woman in New York who was seen pulling her own mask down to cough into the air then putting it back on. True story.). The masks do not universally protect you. But used correctly, along with maintaining all the other recommended safety measures will certainly not hurt and will likely help.
- Now for the tricky part. Think about your own kids. How will they do with maintaining boundaries? Are they able to keep a safe distance? Will they be able to keep their hands clean? Some older kids can actually do well with this. Other kids who are younger or who have behavioral or social difficulties may be more challenged with these safety measures. If you have one or more children who will struggle with maintaining safe standards, it will be up to you to decide what other people they can spend time with now. Will you let them play with other kids who have maintained the same level of caution as you have? The Social Bubble idea might be particularly relevant to families with young kids or kids with special needs.
- For children, teens, and even young adults on the autism spectrum, this might be especially challenging. For one thing, if you have a child with autism and you have been at home with limited support, you may be tempted to take support and opportunities for your child to have time with others as quickly as possible, with less concern about the possible risks involved because basically, you have had enough. For another thing, people with autism may be less aware of how to maintain boundaries, and in some cases may have less social awareness and control to help them navigate interactions using distancing and other healthy precautions such as not touching their faces. The thing to remember is that you have choices. Using the Social Bubbles may help you with this, and it also applies to caregivers and support personnel, such as ABA providers or other therapists. If you allow your child to spend time with peers, do the best you can to make sure the peers and their families are following the same guidelines that you are. It may also help you to find caregiver support through ABA and other therapists, as well as local babysitters or respite providers who you trust to use precautions around you and your family.
- Keep an eye on trends in your own area. As things open back up, how do the numbers look near you? Are things continuing to look better, or are the numbers going back up? You can decide how to handle your own safety measures based on what is happening where you live. Stay informed by the data to help guide your decisions, one day at a time.
- If you really aren’t sure what is ok and what isn’t for you and your family, reach out to health experts in your area for guidance. This may include family doctors or local health officials who have been carefully following the trends with this outbreak. While it is good to be cautious, it is also important to balance caution with common sense measures you can take to help move back to some normal daily experiences.