How to Build Structure for Special Needs Youth in Trying Times

Carly Carver, Editor

The Ashland Beacon


   I have been tuning into Governor Andy Beshear’s news conferences at 5 p.m. each day, like many Kentuckians. Thursday evening, the Ashland Independent School District announced that they would be closing, I suspected in advance that they would be. I was tuned in, cooking pasta, watching my children play, sipping a glass of wine, preparing myself while running through the thoughts every other single mother with zero backup childcare was… How was I going to work?… How was I going to watch my kids?… My only family nearby is my younger sister… who is an Emergency Department Registered Nurse… who clearly isn’t busy during the COVID-19 outbreak… What was I going to do?… then the major question… How would this impact by Autistic child?

   Then Ashland Independent School District made their announcement. The first morning after the closure, my kids and I loaded up and headed into my office. I am blessed enough to work two jobs, both of which accommodate for my life as a single parent. Both of which accommodate for my children being with me while I work.

   I set my children up with their homework packets, iPad, coloring books, toys, and as much structure as I could while I worked. It wasn’t even an hour into my day when my son had his first meltdown.

   Let me define meltdown for those who haven’t spent time around an Autistic individual. He bites. He pulls his hair. He hits himself. He bangs his head against the wall. And then he must be medicated, work through a series of therapeutic and breathing exercises.

   Is he typically like this? No. Typically he is what we define as a success story. As “high functioning.” As people sometimes insensitively say “oh he doesn’t look Autistic,” to which I usually respond “oh, it’s the way I part his hair.” Typically, my son has his routine, his support staff at his school, his amazing school-based therapies, his teachers. I can’t say enough about his school and how much those services mean to him. He’s received outside services ever since he was two, and they’ve also made all the difference, but this past school year is the first year he’s only received school-based support, because he’s thrived so much. My son also attends with a service dog. He’s lost that support now too, as we can’t fit all of us in an office together. No routine. No school. No familiar faces. No service dog.

   My son represents the one in 59 children (CDC) diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There are over 500 in the Ashland Independent School District identified with having a “disability” and 785 in the Boyd County Public School system identified as having a “disability.” Disability, of course, covering a broad range of terms.

   These children, who need routine, who need stability, who need their school-based supports, therapies, and services, are impacted the most right now. This was a statement I sent in to Governor Beshear that was addressed recently on a live conference, and he responded by saying his administration would be adding resources to the state’s website with additional resources for special-needs families as soon as possible. The Greater Ashland Beacon will post those resources once they are available.

   I’ve been with you, the special-needs family, through a lot with my nonprofit work the past few years, but never anything like this. Never a pandemic. Never our schools shutting down and our businesses shutting down, and everything being this chaotic. But I’m going to do what I can to help you through. To help our children through. Things are still chaotic. The governor announced recently that he is recommending schools shut down through April 20 and all local schools have already announced they are complying.

   We’re all out of routine. But luckily, there are resources right here locally being compiled. The Greater Ashland Beacon has reached out to local experts at the Pathways Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities and they are stepping up in big ways.

   In the weeks to come, we will be relying on their resources to assist with how we, as special-needs families, can establish routine, create social stories, and utilize Telehealth to help our children through this.