Differently Abled Children
During lockdown we were acutely aware of the extreme pressures that families with children with disabilities were experiencing.
These children were living at home with carers or parents, and many were self-isolating due to their health conditions associated with their disabilities and the increased infection from COVID-19. As the lockdown continued, relationships within the family home were becoming more fractious, exacerbating the potential of the situation escalating to formal child protection measures. Parents with children who are ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) were having to deal with their child’s repetitive behaviours, speech, and non-verbal communication, as well as their challenging behaviour which was escalating (biting, kicking, screaming spitting) because the child didn’t understand why their world and way of doing things had changed. Some non-verbal children with challenging behaviours were starting to display behaviours that their carers had never experienced before, meaning they struggled to understand what the child was trying to communicate.
Consequently, the emotional well-being of both the children and the carers was at significant risk of deterioration. The children were exhibiting an increase in anxiety, distress, depression and self-harm whilst some carers had an increased risk of psychosocial issues (such as social disconnection, lack of meaning, entrapment, financial stress, and relationship breakdown).
Working with local statutory agencies we provided live interactive sessions through Zoom for the children to interact with professional children’s entertainers including clowns, magicians, story tellers, and music teachers. Each live session lasted 20-30 minutes and was bespoke to that particular child’s needs. For some families, the sessions were delivered daily whilst for others the sessions were weekly, helping to give families a welcome break from their routine.
The idea was that once the parent was comfortable that their child was engaged in the session, they could ask another family member in the household to sit with the child whilst they to the myriad of personal daily tasks that they need to complete. This benefited the child as it provided them with some additional stimulation and structure around their week.
Children with disabilities in Belarus
Over the last 10 years we have been facilitating overseas trips for Scottish volunteers to travel to Belarus where they work with disabled adults and children. Culturally this has been a major shift for the Belarusian participants as traditionally, abled-bodied children and differently abled children are not encouraged to participate in shared activities. Over the years we have been at the forefront of breaking down this stereotype and challenging stigma by encouraging the integration of both groups.
Recently, through a series of discussions with the parents of those differently abled children, we set up a programme where the parents were trained in delivering information sessions to abled bodied children about the prejudices and stereotypes their children experienced. This information session became mandatory for those children and young people who were participating in the Belarusian Government’s mandatory school residential programmes at our partner’s centre.
Before the government crackdown on Belarusian citizens, the plan had been to bring these parents to Scotland to allow them to work with other agencies to explore the different types of delivery in peer education, linking them into different carer support groups.