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Talking to kids with developmental disabilities about life during pandemic

Tips on stressing hand washing, social distancing

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Parents across the world have had to have difficult conversations with their children about the coronavirus pandemic and the many impacts it is having on daily life. 

Those conversations can be especially difficult for parents of children with developmental disabilities like autism or down syndrome.

Licensed psychologist Dr. Nicole Beurkens says common challenges for families with special needs children include struggling with communication. Depending on their level of development, special needs children may have difficulties understanding serious, complex issues.

Many children with developmental disabilities also have high levels of anxiety and struggle with change. With their routine being disrupted during the pandemic, those issues with anxiety can be exacerbated. 

Dr. Beurkens says there are things parents can do to alleviate some of these issues. 

First, it's important to talk with your kids at their developmental level. This may mean using simple words and visual or audio aids like pictures or music. 

She says it's also important to establish a new routine. With schools closed until next school year, it's important to create a schedule and stick to it most days. This will help reduce the child's anxiety and establish that "new normal". 

When it comes to topics like hand washing and social distancing, it's usually more helpful to demonstrate those actions opposed to just talking about it. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with them and show them what six feet apart looks like. 

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