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Challenge: Pandemic Parenting

Welcome to Our World

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While my mom watched our two kids, my husband and I went for an early evening walk. It was the first week of the Covid pandemic lockdown in March of 2020. It would normally be a busy time of day in our neighborhood with cars passing by headed to evening events, dinner or practices. Families would normally be outside socializing, kids playing and adults talking. Tonight was different. The streets were empty. Lights were on in houses but families were inside keeping to themselves.

I felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and belonging. I am certain my emotions were the opposite of what others were feeling in the face of a global pandemic and a nationwide lockdown. While so many people were feeling isolated, scared and alone that night, I told my husband that I felt less alone than I had in many years. I felt like the rest of the world was joining us in our world, a world of isolation.

My son Jack has severe autism and cerebral palsy. His senses are overwhelmed by the sounds, movements, people and smells of the world outside of our front door. Of course we tirelessly try to get him out in the community to experience fun, relationships and childhood. However, his response to these things we take for granted are often harmful to himself and heartbreaking to us. He exhibits severe self injurious behaviors when he is overstimulated which dangerously escalate if we force the situation. The sounds of cars, airplanes, people’s voices, babies crying and children playing are sometimes more than he can bear. The feeling of the wind touching his skin, hot or cold weather, bright lights, crowded spaces and so on often cause Jack pain and discomfort.

This leaves us in our house much of the time. It keeps us from being with friends and family. It keeps us from going to restaurants. It keeps us from going to birthday parties, weddings and celebrations. It keeps us from going to church. It keeps us from traveling. Just like the pandemic. So, for us, the pandemic was life as usual. Only now, everyone else is home too. The selfish side of me relaxes and doesn’t feel quite so isolated and alone knowing that everyone else is at home. We aren’t missing out. I’m not sitting at home wondering what kind of fun all of my friends are having. I’m not having to decline invitations or go to yet another party solo, without my husband, because one of us has to stay home with Jack. I don’t want the rest of the world to be stuck at home, missing out, but I have to admit that it feels good for a little while to know we aren’t the only ones.

As for Jack, quarantine life suited him just fine. There was no anxiety about going to doctor appointments or therapist or the grocery store. There were no forced trips to the park or an occasional social gathering in an attempt to immerse him in the world around us. He was safe at home in his controlled environment with the people, sounds and surroundings he was comfortable with.

What we saw at that point was pretty amazing. When we took away the sensory stimulation of the outside world and the anxiety of leaving our house, Jack blossomed. He met more developmental milestones in that year at home than he had in the previous five years of forced attempts. He began using eating utensils, sitting with us at the table for meals, looking us in the eyes, taking facial cues and laughing when we laughed, developing an interest in toilet training, forming a relationship with the pets and an overall calm and happier disposition.

The year opened my eyes and gave me a much deeper understanding of Jack’s struggles. It gave me insight into how to better help him flourish. This is not to say that we will keep him home, secluded and hidden from the world forever. However, this year did teach me that sometimes we aren’t missing out by staying at home. It taught me that eliminating the unnecessary stress, expectations, social norms and chaos can allow us to relax and grow in ways we never knew possible. Not only for Jack, but for all of us.

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