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BLOG: Parenting a child with Autism during COVID-19

"I wanted to let colleagues and families in similar situations know that you are not alone and we are in this together."

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A blog by Paula McDaid, a member of clerical staff in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences

The COVID-19 pandemic is a worrying time for all parents and carers with children.  

I, personally, am a parent with a child who has autism.  To say that this pandemic has turned our lives upside down is an understatement. It had taken our family years to get our head around what 'autism' is, including many years of O.T and Physio; getting the right help in school; finding the right routine; enduring a routine with food; and, of course, social communication has been a massive struggle... the list goes on.  All of this has been totally flipped within the current pandemic.   

Getting through the past six months has meant trying to find the 'new normal', battling home-schooling and, before restrictions began to ease, keeping kids entertained at home while having to explain that they can no longer visit friends and family and instead need to stay at home to stay safe.   

My son is old enough to understand what a virus is and why we have needed to stay at home; however, this does not help with his daily struggles.  It has been heart-breaking to watch him get emotionally upset each day.  We try hard with a new routine but it is a daily battle.  

Home-schooling was particularly stressful and, though we tried our best, it caused my son so much stress.  His teachers are very understanding and supportive, but this support has had to be virtual, and my son struggles with this.  All of our support networks are also virtual, which, of course is helpful for me, but isn't working for my son. I worry about his stress and anxiety, which then has a knock-on effect on me and his younger brother.  I keep thinking 'tomorrow will be better'. 

If there is anything I will take from this situation, it is that I am so thankful for school and the amazing job that our teachers do to help and support our children and particularly my son, who misses school so much.  It is the routine of school which helps him so many ways!  I always knew that school-life was the best thing for my son, as school-holidays were always a struggle, but we had always had a school-holiday schedule that involved going places he enjoyed (in particular, horse riding).  COVID-19 has really brought home the importance of school for my whole family. 

At work, I’m fortunate to have a job share arrangement in place and to be able to work part-time, creating that happy work-life balance. Working from home and supporting my son and family during this time would not have been possible without the fantastic support of my Job-Share Partner, Line Manager and School Manager!  Trust me, there have been some stressful situations with my children and working from home, but I am grateful to have been supported along the way by these three wonderful people who have made life so much easier. 

I’m grateful that my family are healthy and that Covid-19 hasn't affected us physically, and I know that there are families in worse situations than mine.  But I wanted to let colleagues and families in similar situations know that you are not alone and we are in this together. Yes, we have a long road ahead of us and we are now re-building all we had put in place through our hard-work over the years, putting things back in place for our children and re-integrating into society. But with a lot of love and a strong will, I know it will all be ok one day.   

Some advice for you, the parent or carer: make some time for you. When you get the kids to bed, take some time for yourself and relax, make that cuppa and phone a friend or family member for that long-needed chat! And reach out for the support you need - Autism NI have been a fantastic support network for me and also the Autism Intervention Team, for those who have a diagnosis in place. 

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