A very COVID Mother’s Day
By Lora Hinkel | May 6, 2020
Lora Hinkel is a speech-language pathologist and teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. She and her husband live in Columbia, Missouri, with their sons, Blake and Jackson. Lora is a member of the Family Advisory Council for the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.
This Mother’s Day will look different for moms all over the world. At my house, we have adapted and made the best of a difficult situation while honoring the stay-at-home order due to COVID-19.
Over Easter, our family did a lot of video chats! It was a special day, but it was challenging. We had to adjust and make the best of it. For most parents of children with autism, that is how we handle every holiday.
This Mother’s Day, I expect, will mean more adapting to this “new normal.”
If the holidays have ever been overwhelming to you, imagine having sensory and social difficulties because of your autism. The routine changes. There's a lot of stimulation, a lot of people, and a lot of change. There are presents that are ignored (my son has to be almost forced to open them and doesn’t really care about toys or money), food that isn't tolerated, and a lot of talking to people when communication is challenging. Doing this all virtually has meant continuing to adapt and change, when the traditions we cherish – and that our son thrives on – are changing.
Where before we might feel pressured to explain why our child isn't eating, why they are flapping their hands, or apologizing for screaming, right now we have different questions to answer.
When we got the call that we weren’t going back to school at all this school year, the questions came from my 17-year-old son with autism, Blake - all through tears.
“No last day of school?”
“No Miss Zuba?”
“No Battle High School?”
He keeps asking me about future things and making sure they are still scheduled so I tell him yes if they still are at the moment. His stability just got rocked. The boy loves school (I mean LOVES it!) and due to a job training program/school opportunity next year for his senior year, this was his last year of traditional school.
He also keeps asking about “eating germs” and reminding us all a million times to wash our hands so we don’t get the virus. He keeps looking at me with full blown sadness and worry on his face. He is worried one of us will get the virus or something else in his world and schedule will disappear. I know some folks are battling “bigger” issues, but in Blake’s world this is one of the biggest. So, as before, we’re keeping our armor on and smiling on the outside and hoping, for his sake, that he can get back to the routines and activities he loves.
As a Mother’s Day gift to all of you caregivers out there, here are some strategies we’ve been using at home that have helped.
To help Blake adjust to our new normal, I created a monthly schedule with the date marked when they are supposed to go back to school so he can mark off the days. I’ve adopted the saying that everything is cancelled until then, and everything is scheduled to happen after that day. Once we know things for sure, I’m open and honest about it with him. I’ve found that he struggles more with the “I don’t know.” Let’s be honest, this is where we all are right now, but it’s very hard on those with ASD. I tell him ‘yes’ and ‘no’ regarding what is cancelled and what isn’t at that moment because it’s easier on him. He seems to do better with this black and white description - and handles the change better when it does happen.
We also have a daily schedule to complement what our sons’ teachers have provided us. Some more tips I’ve gotten from other autism parents:
- Add chore time at least twice a day after meals. The house gets messier with everyone home and these are good ‘work/life’ skills.
- Add a quiet time -- for everyone’s mental health!
- Arrange the things they CAN do somewhat independently around times you need to work from home, such as for scheduled meeting times
- Include a time your child MUST go outside (even if for 5 minutes with an umbrella). A quote that I have adopted is, “If you let the weather determine your happiness, you will always be sad.”
- Time to read together as a family.
This Mother’s Day will be a unique one for sure. I plan to video chat with my mom, grandma, and mother-in-law. Hopefully the weather will be nice so we can go for a family walk. We love to be outside. Luckily, we can still do that right now.
My husband is a good cook, and it’s one of Blake’s favorite things to do. So, hopefully they will join forces to work on a Mother’s Day meal. We are currently looking at puppies, so there may even be a fur-baby in the mix. If we are going to change things up, why not add a cute new family member to make us smile? No matter what we do that day, it will be together.
Although COVID-19 has been challenging, being together without the hustle and bustle of the outside world has actually been one of my favorite parts. Families with autism are rarely together without a multitude of people in and out of the house and therapies or activities to attend. It’s been a good change of pace for us as an “always on the go” family to pause and enjoy each other’s company. I can’t imagine a better way to spend Mother’s Day than with my boys.
If you are lucky enough to be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with someone on the spectrum, be patient, be understanding, and be kind. Celebrate WITH them in a way that works for your whole family. It may not follow the same traditions you've always known, but a little change keeps things interesting!