Reemerging After Another COVID-19 Winter

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 March 25, 2021, and in the Stoughton Journal on April 26, 2021]

With the arrival of spring, and as COVID-19 cases decrease and vaccine availability increases, we are slowly preparing to get back to normal. It is important to remember that the pandemic is not yet over and we still have a long way to go, but there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. 
Just like we needed to adjust to being in a pandemic, we are going to need to adjust to coming out of a pandemic. It’s like lifting weights: you may have been able to lift a lot more weight prior to the pandemic because you were able to go to the gym every day. When you return to the gym, you cannot expect yourself to be able to pick up right where you left off. You will need to increase your weight and stamina over time.

The same is true for our children and adults with special needs. Everyone is going to need time to adjust and reset their expectations as they venture out in the coming months.

For example, students who have not been in school five days a week will have to get used to the long days and the workload that comes with being in school full time. Some may have fallen behind and might need to review previously mastered material and relearn certain skills. 

Many youngsters may have loved their tablets and extra down time over the last year. They will have to alter their play versus work outlook. This may be especially difficult for students with autism and other special needs. They may act out when asked to put away their most preferred items/activities in order to complete less preferred activities like homework. Parents and teachers will need to be extra patient as students make these transitions.

Some children may experience distress as they begin to spend more time away from home and the family members who care for them. A child who was once eager to head off to school or to another outside activity may now be reluctant or even refuse to leave. Some may become sad or angry and engage in problem behaviors because they have a difficult time expressing their wants and needs. Make sure that everyone who works with or cares for a student who is limited verbally is aware of that student’s preferred ways to communicate.

Once again, additional patience will be required on the part of caregivers. Plan ahead for upcoming changes in routine, perhaps using a social story to talk about what will happen to prepare your child in advance.

Stay focused on the positive aspects of reemerging from the pandemic. Remind your children that they will soon be able to visit with – and even hug – their grandparents and other older relatives who have been fully vaccinated. And, with the advent of warmer weather, they can look forward to playing outside with their friends again!

Erica Kearney, M.A., LABA, BCBA, is Executive Director at the May Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Chicopee, Mass. She can be contacted at

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 65 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 ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit