It goes without saying that COVID-19 has been
challenging for everyone, but for people with an intellectual or developmental
disability, it has been much more so. Routines have been upended and changes
have been confusing. After spending a year avoiding
crowds and staying home, it can be overwhelming to be reintroduced to them.
There are a few ways you can make this transition a little easier.
Social stories and videos
Social stories can be extremely helpful when
introducing a change. These are short, simple narratives with pictures that
help an individual better understand a situation. The person reading them takes
the perspective of the hero in the story and sees them overcoming challenges,
which makes it more likely they will model the behavior offered in the tale.
For example, a story designed for someone who
will be going to a busy place like a shopping center could suggest that “when I
hear loud noises I become overwhelmed, I can ask for a quiet space until I feel
You can find examples of social stories here: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/social-story-sampler/
Additionally, before going somewhere new, it
can be helpful to watch YouTube videos of a similar outing. Think of them as
social stories coming to life. For example, watching a video of a movie theater
or carnival can help prepare the individual for the upcoming outing.
Visual schedules can be effective in providing
structure when there is a change in day-to-day activities.
If your loved one has a new activity, task or appointment to prepare for, they
can observe pictures and phrases that represent them. From there they can move
the pictures/phrases from a “to do” to a “done” list.
An example would be getting ready to visit a
park after not leaving home for a long time. The schedule would include
activities like taking a shower, getting dressed, putting on sunscreen, getting
in the car, putting on a seatbelt, and arriving at the park.
A parent or support person can prompt the
individual to look at the schedule and identify the next task/activity. While
tasks can include chores and other must-do items, it’s important to include
some fun activities, too.
Here is a picture of a visual schedule, using
easy to find magnets.
Change takes time
While we all might be excited to return to
“normal,” the people we
support are likely to have settled into the “new normal” and will need just as
much adjustment time for this change as they do any other change to their
Indeed, re-entry into what was once known and
accomplished without fear or limitation can feel frightening and cause anxiety.
Don’t get discouraged if your loved one doesn’t initially seem interested in
returning to what were once preferred activities. Instead, give them time and
support to adjust to the change. It is OK to take it slow, set boundaries and
take small steps.
If changes are creating behavioral issues that
go beyond what you feel you can properly handle, it may be a good idea to seek outside help. Finally, remember that we are all facing
challenges as we return to normal. Remember to treat yourself with grace!