Using Virtual Classes to Cope with Coronavirus Uncertainty

Published: April 21, 2020

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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people across the U.S. are under stay-at-home advisories. Self-isolation and social distancing have become the new norm, presenting an extraordinary challenge for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities such as autism, as well as their caretakers, who depend on us for a sense of structure and routine.

The measures taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have forced us here at Bridgewell, like many other human services agencies, to close day programs and employment support programs. This significantly impacts the population we serve because it creates a major deviation from a typical routine; which can trigger enormous anxiety and behavioral issues for people with ASD and other developmental disabilities. Familiarity is critical and any sort of change can be a major cause for alarm, posing difficulties for parents and caretakers.

In an effort to keep the people we serve connected and on a routine, we’ve shifted to virtual programming. Bridgewell has partnered with Riverside Community Care to offer 30 to 45-minute dance, fitness, talent showcases and art classes on Zoom every day of the week, reaching dozens of households and more than 100 people.

“There’s so much great energy in these virtual classes, and it brings a lot of families together both inside and outside the Bridgewell community. Having daily classes to attend on Zoom helps them maintain a schedule,” said Judith Doherty, Bridgewell’s Family Support Center Program Director and Autism Specialist.

“We’re trying to keep as much of a routine as we can, because the people we serve will have challenging behaviors if they’re not occupied,” said Jodi Smith, Clinical Director of Rosewood Day Programs at Bridgewell.

For parents and caregivers who are feeling overwhelmed, Bridgewell is also hosting a support group for families on Zoom every Monday, Wednesday and Friday called, “Moving, Mindfulness and Avoiding Meltdowns.” Each virtual session involves calming music, meditation and helpful tips to manage stress and anxiety.

“Parents are frantic about whether their kids will regress. Families are worried about the unknown because there is no end in sight,” said Smith. “Many parents are working from home and trying to be teachers at the same time. We tell parents to focus on one day at a time, getting through today and doing the best you can.”

Bridgewell staff are advising parents to create a structured environment and work in natural breaks. In addition to Zoom classes, they’ve shared a list of activities including links to virtual programs and recommend walks (while maintaining social distance) outside for fresh air and exercise.

“We call our families who participate in day programs to check on them and see how they’re doing,” said Smith. “To accommodate all our families, we’re offering advice in both English and Spanish.”

The coronavirus has presented unprecedented challenges for our Bridgewell community and society as a whole. But we can and will get through this together; and Bridgewell will continue to support the families we serve.

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