Caring for people with special needs during the circuit breaker period

SINGAPORE – Parents can find safe ways to organise physical activities at home during the circuit breaker period if their children with developmental needs enjoy going outdoors.

Dr Koh Hwan Cui, principal psychologist at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s department of child development, encourages parents to consider their children’s interests and strengths when planning activities for them.

For example, they can have obstacle races or get the children to dance to music, she says.

If the children do not want to take part in a new activity, parents can take the lead by doing it first and showing them it can be enjoyable, says Dr Koh.

For example, if the kids do not want to exercise, parents can go ahead with the exercise and continue doing it for a week. This shows the children they are also committed to exercising in the stay-at-home schedule.

“Parents are encouraged to provide their children with a variety of activities at home that includes physical exercises, learning and play activities,” she says.

She also cautions against allowing unlimited screen time to keep the children occupied as research shows that excessive screen time is associated with an increased risk of obesity and sleep problems. Poor sleep is also linked to depression, anxiety, hyperactivity and inattention.

She encourages parents to stop all screen activities at least an hour before the children’s bedtime.

Screen time can also be spent watching meaningful and developmentally appropriate programmes and engaging the children in discussions or activities related to these programmes, she adds.

On wearing masks when leaving the house, Dr Koh says parents can consider using games or their children’s favourite activities to have practice sessions at home. They can designate the area near the main door as the “mask-on area” and mark it with a picture of a person wearing a mask.

“They can provide labelled praises, for example, ‘Jay, good job keeping your mask on’ and lots of positive attention such as smiles and high-fives, or tangible rewards like a favourite sticker when the child wears the mask for a specific amount of time,” says Dr Koh.

Meanwhile, epidemiologist and paediatrician Lim Hong Huay says caregivers can try to stick to their children’s usual routines. “Try to get a sense of the child’s routine in school or at the early intervention centre and think of what it looks like in the family setting.”

Activities like a school-bus ride can be replaced with a car ride or a walk to the bus stop and back home. Visual and verbal cues, such as saying “school time”, can also help the child transit to home-based learning, says Dr Lim, who is a mother of three, two of whom have autism.

She led the development of Echo, a framework for early childhood intervention in Singapore.

She says: “See what the child is used to, what you can replace and see what the family is typically doing and who can help with responsibilities.”

She adds that parents and caregivers should also take time to practise self-care, for example, by getting their exercise fix.

“Carve out time for yourself and know what tops up your emotional tank. I think that is the most important thing to help us survive.”

RESOURCES

Caregivers can access a range of resources online to help them tide through the pandemic.

1

Inclusive arts movement Superhero Me has produced a learning package to help children and people with disabilities understand routine changes due to the pandemic.

The package includes a photo slideshow with videos and a comic strip. It was created with the support of Dr Lim Hong Huay, an epidemiologist and paediatrician; Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases expert; Eden School and the Lien Foundation. Find out more here.

2

Dear Doctor, a series of weekly discussions from May 14 to June 4, aims to give parents of special needs children practical tips to cope with common challenges.

Helmed by the Lien Foundation and the National University Hospital’s child development unit, the sessions are held over Zoom and livestreamed every Thursday night.

Find out more here. 

3

The Enabling Guide is an online resource by SG Enable, an agency set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to support people with disabilities. The website has information on disability schemes and services, and educational resources for caregivers to use.

Find out more here.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

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