Children with Disabilities

Services for Children with Disabilities

Ongoing communication is critical to keeping parents and families informed about program- and school-related information during remote service delivery. It can ease the stress of feeling isolated and alone. Parents and families who have a child with a disability may have additional concerns and questions about their child's development. Find suggestions and resources to support education staff, children with disabilities, and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Self-care

Staff
Supporting young children and families can be challenging, even at the best of times. Staff may need extra support from each other, mental health consultants, and experts. Here are some self-care strategies to consider:

  • Practice deep breathing
  • Spend time outside
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Try a moment of mindfulness or meditation
  • Connect with the Head Start Disabilities-Inclusion Network community on MyPeers

Families
The well-being of adults has a powerful effect on the children in their care. Children notice when adults are calm, composed, and joyful, and they learn from our examples. Self-care for families and children is especially important when they are stressed or isolated. Staff can support families by:

  • Making a phone call or sending an email just to say hello and offer empathy and encouragement.
  • Offering to talk to the child, giving the parent a break.
  • Asking families how they prefer to communicate. Would they prefer a phone call or an email? Would they like to receive materials sent by postal mail or dropped off at their home?
  • Acknowledging the stress of having children at home all day and understanding that we all cope differently.
  • Encouraging caregivers to step away or put their baby down when feeling overwhelmed; for example:
    • Place the child in a safe place or position
    • Step away for a moment once you make sure the child is in a safe place with trusted adult supervision
    • Go for a short walk or take a moment to breathe deeply and relax your body
  • Explaining that activity-based mindfulness is a great way for kids and adults to manage their emotions and calmly respond to stressful situations. Share these resources with families:

Supporting Educators from a Distance

It is important for disability services staff to regularly connect with education staff during unexpected program closures and social distancing. Staff work together to discuss ways to support children with disabilities and their families remotely. When you reach out, acknowledge the additional burden on educators who may also be parents of children home from school or child care.

  • Start with connection and empathy.
  • Call to just to say hi and to see how things are going.
  • Keep communication simple and flexible.
  • Offer tips for working from home successfully.
  • Share information gathered from early intervention or special education partners.
  • Brainstorm strategies for supporting children with disabilities and their families.

Supporting Families of Children with Disabilities from a Distance

Disability services staff should connect with service providers to support continuity of early intervention, special education, and related services for children with disabilities and their families, as appropriate. Once information is gathered from service providers, disability services and education staff can reach out to families with additional supports. While distance learning and teletherapy opportunities provide some consistency and continuity, those experiences may or may not be possible depending on internet access and location.

Strategies to Help Families Support Their Child's Progress from Home
Encourage families to support their child's learning during daily home activities. Start with one or two small goals that are easy to embed into everyday routines, such as mealtime, outdoors, and reading. This approach will ease the burden on families who may feel the need to plan and implement lessons at home. Be sure to ask families what they want to address most and where they believe they need the most support.

  • Validate all of the things parents are already doing every day to support their child's progress, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.
  • Share simple tip sheets and resources (e.g., via phone screenshot, email, mail, reading off tips while they write them down). Examples:
  • Offer a couple of suggestions per week. Keep it simple so families do not feel overwhelmed or guilty that they aren't doing more to support their child. For example:
    • Suggest families try using a "first-then" schedule:
      • "First we'll read a book, then you can play on the tablet."
      • "First get dressed, then we can watch a show together."
      • "First I need a break, then I can help you."
    • Individualize for each family based on their needs and the needs of their child.
  • Send links to helpful videos and online resources related to the child's Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals.
  • Suggest that caregivers reach out to trusted friends and family members via phone or online video calls to spend time with children. This can include working on IFSP or IEP goals that don't require physical prompting.
  • Mail simple instructional materials home and then follow up with a phone call to discuss how things are going and how families might use the materials (e.g., visual supports or schedule).
  • Coordinate a pick-up/drop-off location to swap materials with families while ensuring a safe distance.

Resources from Federal and Lead Early Childhood Agencies

Many national and state early childhood agencies have developed websites to coordinate information during these uncertain times. These sites are resource hubs with information that may be helpful to you and your work supporting children, families, and education staff.

Guidance Documents
Review guidance related to supporting children with disabilities from a distance. These documents have been shared with school districts and early intervention providers to provide clarity about expectations for service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resources for Tele-Intervention
Many special education and early intervention programs are reaching out to families with tele-intervention. The guidance and strategies in these resources can serve as a virtual support to help ease the stress of feeling isolated and alone during this period. Remember, while distance learning and teletherapy opportunities provide some consistency and continuity, those experiences may or may not be possible depending on internet access and location.