As my clients will attest, I can almost always find the silver lining in things. I have had some wonderful sessions the last couple of weeks online thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic we are currently experiencing. Here are some of my thoughts and observations on life with the COVID-19 pandemic this month.
My teen-clients online
I met with two teens, both who struggle with fluidly verbalizing their thoughts into sentences. They also struggle with what is called “social reciprocity.” (Social reciprocity is the back and forth between people where one does something and the other does something that is contingent on the other person’s actions or words.) I wasn’t sure how an online session would go with them but thought I would give it a go. They had very limited experience communicating with others online. When I see them in clinic, my goal is to give them practice socially engaging, getting a rhythm of back and forth social reciprocity between us.
Online, with each client separately, we started playing my version of a fill in the blank game. Both teens were immediately engaged and active in playing, since it is something we use to start every session when we are physically together as well. Even though they were online this time, I still stood at my white board and went first. When it was their turn, they each were resistant at first. One tried to say something about “no see it” or “can’t,” but I encouraged each to go find a piece of paper and take their turn – giving lots of encouragement that they could do it. What do you know!? They both went for paper and both of them came up with their own phrases to successfully challenge me. One chose the question: “when will coronavirus be off?” on his turn. This is a primarily non-verbal teen/young man who relies heavily on echolalic phrases typically to communicate. The fill in the blank games we play always reveal what he is really thinking about even if he cannot verbally pull the words together.
One of the ways to evaluate whether someone has autism is to see if they draw something for you but neglect to turn it so you can actually see it to then comment. Imagine a person drawing a picture and being proud of it but not bringing it up to show you, or turning it, and or pointing to it. So when each of my clients figured out that I could not see their paper (I really couldn’t rather than having to exaggerate in the typical clinic setting) and they figured out how to hold it up to the camera and adjust it so I could see – I was thrilled.
My parent-clients online
Now on to the awesome parents I have conferenced with thus far. I have met with a physician, an attorney, a grocery store clerk, a parent on disability, a writer, a musician, a construction worker, and more. These parents are so different and each is so incredibly resilient and creative at this time. Most are struggling with their own anxiety surrounding this pandemic, their futures, and now being home with their child(ren). Some have just one child, most have 2, one family has 4 children at home. All of them are willing and – dare I say – excited to delve into family life over the next few weeks with love, compassion, flexibility, and renewed energy.
Today though, I gave them permission to not have to do everything right now, today. They can ease into it. We have time. I urged them to let go of the guilt, take care of themselves first by creating schedules not for their children quite yet but for themselves. Find a regular time to check in with their co-parent over coffee in the morning or over dinner to discuss the next day. We are in this for at least several more weeks, if not months. Taking care of themselves will be hard and will require the discipline so that they CAN guide and support their children.
Ideas for self care out of this week? Lots of walks, introducing themselves to the “podcasts everyone is talking about,” reading daily, taking turns parenting – truly having time “in” and “out” when the other parent takes the reins and the other can relax for a little while. It doesn’t matter what it is, just being sure to prioritize oneself so prioritizing children is possible.
Till next time – Stay well