Tips For Online Meetings and Therapies for Preschoolers with Down Syndrome During Social Distancing

It’s been over a month of learning from home for most of the country and it hasn’t been easy for anyone, including preschoolers with special needs who are not only trying to keep up with typical schoolwork but who are also trying to receive therapies such as occupational therapy and speech therapy in addition to having class meetings. These sessions, which are now being given over live video on the family computer, are a far cry from what the students are used to. Therapy relies on in person face to face contact to keep the child engaged. Class meetings and therapy over a computer has been a struggle to keep my child engaged for a sometimes very long 30-minutes. Some school districts are only just beginning to attempt sessions via computer apps such as Zoom. Others, sadly, haven’t even made an attempt. After four weeks for us, and numerous OT, Speech, teacher, and whole class online meetings, I’ve learned a few tips to help those just getting started.

Schedule the session at a time that works for your child
At first I was accepting any meeting time offered not thinking that my child would be tired at the time or hungry for lunch. I know she’s happier and much more attentive right after breakfast or lunch so I start by recommending those times first. If there is limited or no flexibility for picking a meeting time (such as with class meetings), maybe having your child have a snack or rest before the meeting would help better prepare them.
 
Give your child a heads up
If you can work with the therapist or teacher on a plan for the meeting or at least an idea of what will be happening in the session, you can relay that to your child so that they are not surprised. Knowing what’s ahead will give them more of a sense of security. Checking off each item as the meeting progresses will help them understand where they are in the session.
 
Seat your child in a place they can’t easily leave
In our early meetings we did all of this from the couch. This whole thing was new and interesting to my child so she was engaged. After two sessions the novelty wore off and she was excusing herself to get a toy, doll, book, whatever. We also attended meetings from the kitchen floor and the play tent. The table where her booster seat is seems to be working since she is appropriately seated and supported, not to mention that’s the most difficult place for her to escape.
 
Allow for a break
If you think your child will benefit, schedule a 5 minute break as long as you can easily get them back and engaged in the session.
 
Plan a fun activity for after the session
Plan for a fun activity for after the session and tell them what the plan is so that they have a reward to look forward to after the meeting.
 
Know when enough is enough
Therapy via social distancing may not work and that’s okay. I’ve talked to many moms who have tried it and are just not doing it anymore because it didn’t work for their child. In all likelihood, your child at home is still being exposed to stimuli and even doing things that may be different from what they would be doing at school. If they are active, interested, and taking part in family activities, they’re learning.

Gigi counting potatoes as they go into the crockpot.

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