Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused; COVID-19 Topics
By Erica Kearney, M.A., LABA, BCBA
[This column was published in The West Springfield Republican on 7/30/20, and in The Stoughton Journal on 8/19/20.]
On March 17, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Baker ordered all schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to close for in-person instruction. Year-round schools, including special education schools, are now making plans for students to return in limited numbers this summer, and the goal is for as many students as possible to return to all schools in the fall.
How can parents and students start preparing to return to school after being out of school for so long? Below are some tips we hope will help you with this transition.
Start a routine. Everyone thrives on a good routine, but given this pandemic, it’s easy to understand why so many of us have abandoned our usual regimen. It’s time to start getting back on a regular schedule and reestablish a daily routine. Your children can help create the new routine, if they are able. Be sure to include fun things too!
Practice wearing a mask. So far, guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for the fall is for students and staff to wear masks. Have your children practice wearing a mask for short periods of time. If your children are hesitant, try wearing your mask around them to get them used to it. We all look different with our masks on! School staff will be wearing masks when students return to school.
Practice washing hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends frequently washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. If they are not already doing so, have your children practice washing their hands before meals and periodically throughout the day. DESE is recommending that students wash their hands at least four times a day while at school.
Practice safe coughing. Encourage children to cough and sneeze into their elbow!
Make cleaning part of your routine. Another way to combat COVID-19 is to clean areas after we use them. If your children have cleaning safety awareness skills, ask them to help you wipe down frequently touched areas such as doorknobs and light switches.
Practice taking their temperature. Some students have difficulty expressing and communicating their emotions and how they are feeling. They might not tell you when they don’t feel well. Some special education schools will screen students upon arrival at school as an additional safeguard to stop the spread of COVID-19. To prepare your children for this, practice temperature-taking at home before they go back to school. If your children have a temperature or are showing any signs of illness, do not send them to school.
Practice social distancing. Children are often eager to be around others and easily forget that we are practicing social distancing. Some children may need reminders and visuals to help them to remember to keep their distance from others.
The start of a new school year is always exciting and sometimes a little scary. This year, some of us may be a little more fearful than usual. That’s not surprising, considering what we all have experienced over the past few months. Reassure your children that the adults in their lives will take care of them and empower them to keep themselves safe at school by practicing the precautions listed above.
Although plans for school re-openings are still underway, the goal for the fall is to safely bring back as many students as possible for in-person instruction. Working together, we can all play an important role in helping to create a successful back-to-school experience for our children.
Erica Kearney, M.A., LABA, BCBA, is Executive Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates four schools for children with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit www.mayinstitute.org.