Wake up at 6:15am, eat dry cereal and have a smoothie, get dressed, get on the bus at 7:30am, arrive at school at 9am, sit in class until 3:30pm, after school therapy from 4 to 6pm, get home, eat dinner, play, bathtime at 7:45pm, get tucked in at 8:10pm, play on the Kindle or iPad for a little, fall asleep by 9pm.
Every day was the same for the past four years. Not in a bad way, in a consistent, reliable way that seven-year-old Brenden Sinon needed. Having this routine was a constant reminder of how his weekdays progressed. The structure kept him on track.
“You can tell that if he doesn’t have that structure, he’s off. He’s a little bit high-strung, a little bit more wild, he could get upset over something he normally wouldn’t get upset about. If his routine is knocked out of whack, it’s hard for him,” says Brenden’s mother Debbie Sinon.
At 18 months old, Brenden was diagnosed with autism. With early detection, he was able to get the care and assistance he needed. Aids came to the Sinon’s home at first, then he went to an early intervention day program down the road from his house run through Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital, in Poughkeepsie.
When it came time for Brenden needed to enroll in preschool, Sinon and her husband sought out different places all over the region and settled on the Center for Spectrum Services. Luckily, they had a spot open in their preschool program, and he’s been there ever since.
At least until March 18, when New York State mandated that schools shut down due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The pandemic ripped Brenden’s schedule apart, and it was a struggle for him to acclimate to something new. Due to the differing needs of students, teachers primarily teach them one on one, so transitioning to online learning was difficult at first. With little time to prepare before school closure, teachers took a two-week break to figure the best way to teach the students from afar. During that time, there was very limited contact between the school and families as they transitioned to distanced learning.
Fearing Brenden would regress, Sinon worked hard to make sure that he stayed fresh with what he already learned and scoured the internet for worksheets and brought out workbooks for him to use during his time at home.
With hard work and constant support from his parents and teachers, Brendan has been able to adapt. But his story is just one of thousands as families must adjust to life under lockdown. While traditional in-person resources have been put on hold, the community has been coming together to provide free online resources for all children, including those with autism.
Here are some at-home resources for parents of children on the spectrum.
Center for Spectrum Services
In addition to continuing the education for Brenden and the other students, The Center for Spectrum Services in Kingston and Ellenville is also providing free resources online.
“Our goal is to try to do the best service and delivery we can do for each family,” says Jamey Wolff, Program Director at the Center for Spectrum Services.
There are links for educational activities, games, virtual tours, and exploration to help quell boredom while simultaneously helping kids learn. Also, there are links to help children with their social skills and speech, and even resources for at home occupational and physical therapy.
Anderson Center for Autism
The Anderson Center, in Saatsburg, is a school and a lifelong learning community that people with autism, both adults and children, can attend. Additionally, The Center provides individualized services and resources to varying school districts and agencies.
“The service that we provide is very much an in-person type of service. So we really had to scramble to prepare things from a different perspective,” says Kathleen Marshall, Director of Program Services at The Anderson Center for Autism.
The Center’s services have made huge adjustments, for both the teachers and students by going online, with the exception of the students who live onsite. Consultations and teachings are happening through telecom. Teachers are still keeping up with their students Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals through online opportunities and providing hard copies of work for pickup.
The Anderson Center for Autism is not only providing resources to their own teachers and students’ families, their COVID-19 resources are free and available to the public. Their website includes tip sheets, social stories, picture icons, and links to additional external resources. They are also offering an In-Home Educator Training, for parents now tasked with managing their children’s learning.
“We know that (the parents) are juggling so much right now, and it’s not easy. That’s why we felt it important that we provide the larger community free resources, not just the folks that we have a contract to support,” says Lisa Susczynski, Consultation Administrator for The Anderson Center.
In 2015, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro created the ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative to bring awareness to the community about local residents living with special needs. ThinkDIFFERENTLY is a great resource that allows for people, businesses, and communities to connect with services around the county and area.
“The website that followed was designed to create linkages for people with IDD (Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities), their families and service providers to find these resources,” says Toni-Marie Ciarfella, Dutchess County Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs.
Now, ThinkDIFFERENTLY is providing even more resources for families with children with special needs during the coronavirus pandemic. There are dozens of links provided that are dedicated to “keeping your family healthy and entertained.” There are new health, entertainment, and education resources provided in their COVID-19/Coronavirus Updates.
Not only have private institutions been providing additional online resources for the whole community, but so have the public school districts. Wallkill Valley Central School District is providing all of its students with services to not only advance their learning from home, but ensure their emotional and social wellbeing.
A brochure can be found on the district website that provides a list of emotional support and socialization resources that parents can use with their children during this confusing and messy time.
“For all students, I developed a social/emotional brochure and our social workers, guidance counselors, and psychologists are ensuring that the social needs of kids are met.” says Anthony White, Director of Pupil Personnel at Wallkill Valley Central School District. “But we also set up some proactive resources that we could share with families and students due to school closure.”
On the national level, education and advocacy organization Autism Speaks has teamed up with Autism Certification Center (ACC) to offer their Foundations of Evidence-Based Strategies courses for free to the public. Through June 1, those in the autism community have access to more than 30 hours of online video-based learning resources.
Wake up at 6:15am, relax, eat dry cereal and have a smoothie, ask if school is open today, get dressed, do a movement, sit at the table and practice writing, do some reading, do math with goldfish, arts and crafts, break, lunch, another movement, computer skills, end of school day. Eat dinner, play, bath time at 7:45pm, get tucked in at 8:10pm, play on the IPad or Kindle, asleep by 9pm.
This is Brenden’s new schedule, he doesn’t love it, but it helps him move through the day. It was rough getting him into the new routine, but his mom says he’s been a “trooper,” and he remains happy throughout the day. The schedule is subject to change as Sinon herself sometimes needs a break, but Brenden always gets at least an hour and a half of curriculum.
“As long as he’s got that sort of reminder that this is what we do, when he actually does transition back to school it won’t be so hard for him,” says Sinon. “It’s going to be hard for him. It’s gonna be rough for both of us, but he will get through it.”