Coming up with things to do with Ryan is challenging enough. Coming up with things to do with him in the middle of a pandemic — I don’t know if there is a word for it. Not impossible. We have found some things to do in our neighborhood. Confining? Yes. Most things are done at home. Isolating? Ryan has used that word a lot in recent weeks. We all are feeling isolated these days. If other families are experiencing what we are, you have my sympathies and adulation.
When we started following stay at home orders, it disrupted all of Ryan’s routines. Parents of special needs kids, especially those with autism, know how important routines are. Going to school, riding the bus, being in class, seeing teachers, friends, aides, therapists, on a daily basis was part of his routine. To say adjusting to not going to school has been difficult would be an understatement. School is not the only thing that has been disrupted. He was supposed to start a community integration ready to work program through Carousel Ranch, an equestrian therapy facility that provides services for people with disabilities. That has been suspended. He was supposed to start his track season with the Special Olympics. That is canceled. When he asks when he can start those programs, I have no answers for him. No one really does. They will resume at one point. In the meantime, kids like Ryan are left in limbo, and that is a bad place for people with autism.
In addition to having all of Ryan’s routines disrupted, he is away from his friends. I didn’t realize how important that was to him. But I also didn’t realize how important it was to me. I have been meeting friends on Zoom for happy hours on Friday nights. It has been crucial to keeping my social life healthy. But it took me a while to realize it is important that Ryan have a healthy social life too.
His school, The Help Group, is having speech therapy sessions via video conferencing. Seeing his classmates definitely brightened Ryan’s day. But that is only one day a week for an hour. And it was therapy based, very structured and organized by an adult. While the social interaction was helpful, it didn’t let the kids be kids. I wanted to find a way to let Ryan be able to socialize without the rules of therapy.
We are going to try a Zoom teenage happy hour with Ryan this weekend. One of my friends also has a son on the spectrum, a term used to describe people with autism. We are going to see if they can have their own type of virtual happy hour and just be teenagers for a little while. Maybe we can make it part of their new routine.
That has been the biggest challenge during this pandemic — creating new routines. Zoom happy hours and virtual therapy sessions are only part of it. Another activity Ryan and I have been doing is going on morning bike rides. It rained a lot recently and that made it hard to ride bikes routinely. But lately it’s been nice and warm outside. Taking daily bike rides has been a good way to produce some positive energy. We could all use more positive energy these days.