Recently, one of our writers was sharing a personal experience they’d had right after college. The writer spent the summer in a third-world country teaching reading, and upon returning to the United States, had a severely overwhelming few weeks getting used to being back.
For example, grocery shopping was necessary since they’d been gone so long, but walking into one of the bigger chain stores to get things like cereal, bread, and milk was nearly panic-inducing. There were so many choices! The lights were too bright, and it was so much cleaner than they’d remembered!
In addition, the stark difference between where their students had been shopping and making food was guilt-inducing and overwhelming.
This is an eye-opening example of what some of our students may experience upon leaving quarantine and shut-down situations.
Part of helping our students during this time is necessarily watching out for their emotional and mental well-being. Planning with them for a reintegration with society can be an important aspect of wrapping up this school year.
Fear of Other People/ Leaving Home
Having adjusted to living in a house with only their immediate family members, students - especially young ones - may have gotten unused to being in other environments or with other people. Some children will need time to adjust slowly so they can begin to acclimate to seeing other people and being in other environments. Even those children who are excited and happy to be out and about and seeing others might get easily overwhelmed.
This is especially possible for students who experience sensory issues.
Begin to prepare students now by talking about how different it might be to be away from their home and/or family. While they may be feeling cramped, isolated, and tired of only seeing family members now, it is entirely possible that everyone may have a hard time adjusting to not being together with their loved ones. Encourage them to imagine themselves in those situations, and talk about ways they can cope if they start to feel overwhelmed.
Although younger students may be more likely to experience a dramatic reaction to shifting, don’t assume older students won’t experience the same thing. High schoolers and adults may even have difficulty making the adjustment, and be much further from times when they’ve experienced such fears and anxiety. Everyone may need a little time to adjust and create some new coping strategies.
Special Needs Students
This group is always at particular risk, regardless of the situation, but the risk may be compounded for them as restrictions begin to lift. They may start to see many other students returning to a more “normal” routine or way of life that they cannot participate in due to health concerns.
Or they may lack many health concerns but be struggling because they are not functioning at a mental capacity that can comprehend all the changes occurring. It may be especially difficult for them to be convinced to wear a mask or to speak to someone else wearing a mask.
Continuing conversations that meet those needs and preparing things like social stories, songs, and planning materials that parents can continue to use over the summer will be extremely helpful.
These students are also often very attached to certain teachers and school personnel. If they are having to transition, teachers and schools may need to start writing out how to make those things happen in a way that gives each student the time and support they need to make big changes.
We recognize that of all the teachers and staff members who will be expecting changes and planning for them, you may be among those who need our advice the least, though, as many of our SpEd friends stay ahead of the game in every way at all times.
Introducing Personal Protection Equipment
If students haven’t been getting out much (or at all), now may be a good time to encourage parents to start looking for kid-sized cloth masks locally made. It would be good for children to have at least 3 to 5 masks so they can wear a fresh one each day, have one in the wash, and keep one in a plastic bag in their backpack, purse, or locker in case the one they are wearing gets dirty or wet.
Try practicing talking to your students on camera with masks on so they can get used to wearing them and leaving them on.
Play silly games that make staying 6 feet from everything and everyone in their home fun to practice what that much space feels like.
Be vigilant about reminding them (as we always do) to cover coughs and sneezes with their inner elbows, not touching their faces, and washing their hands.
All of these things will be a big adjustment for kids as they re-enter the world, and hopefully, the schools again someday soon. Make it light, make it fun, and use the practice for yourself as well! We’re all learning something new every day of this new “normal” of ours. We may as well do it together, and enjoy it!