Supporting Students with Special Needs at Home During COVID-19

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused; COVID-19 Topics

[This column was published in The West Springfield Republican on 5/14/20.]

By Brittany Juban, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D

Throughout Massachusetts – and across the country – parents and guardians whose children can no longer attend school are facing the challenge of educating and entertaining their young students at home. As many caregivers have discovered over the past few weeks, this can be a daunting task!

For students with autism and other developmental disabilities – and for all children – it is very important to establish a regular routine that works well with your family routine. You will want to schedule time for learning, playing (exercising), being creative (artwork), helping with household chores, eating, and sleeping. And don’t forget to make time for regular “breaks” when your child can choose what he or she wants to do!

My colleague Jenna Garvey, a Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield, recommends creating a schedule that is tailored to meet your student’s and family’s needs. Consider one of the following formats:

  • An electronic planner that can be accessed on a tablet or another electronic device for children who are verbal and work well with written instruction.
  • A calendar posted in a common area where you can record daily/weekly activities for a low-tech alternative.
  • A visual schedule with easily recognizable pictures to signify different aspects of your child’s daily/weekly routine for a more basic approach.
  • A schedule that looks like one your child had in his or her classroom at school.

Dr. Whitney Kleinert, former Director of School Consultation for May Institute, offers the following tips for using a schedule at home:

  • Keep it accessible and easy-to-see (at your child’s eye level).
  • Review the schedule each morning and provide visual/verbal prompts throughout the day (e.g., “It’s time for X” or “First we X then we Y”).
  • Try to keep the schedule as consistent as possible, but remember changes happen! When a change occurs in the schedule, it should be announced or previewed (e.g., “You finished all of your science work for this week. Instead of science today, we will be doing reading time.”).

Although there are many online resources available, it can be challenging to sift through them all and determine which may be the most beneficial for your child. My May Institute colleagues Leah Kaufman, an occupational therapist, and Marja Ruderman, a speech language pathologist, recommend the COVID-19 resources on the Autism Speaks and Autism Society of America websites as well as the Autism Focused Intervention Resources & Modules (AFIRM) website’s COVID-19 toolkit. They also offer the following tips:

  • Stay connected. Utilize technology to plan phone/video calls with relatives and friends. Use social stories to describe difficult concepts. 
  • Stay active. Go for a walk at least once a day. Talk about what you see while on your walk (bring paper to draw different animals or flowers). Practice some yoga moves or play freeze dance.
  • Prepare simple snacks or meals together. Snacks such as trail mix and yogurt parfaits are easy recipes to follow. 
  • Be okay with getting messy and having fun! Create sensory bottles together, play hide and seek with toys in a pile of shaving cream, and play with homemade bubbles. 
  • I hope these suggestions and tips are helpful, and that you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy. 

Brittany Juban, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D, is a Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit