As some states cautiously move into the initial phases of re-opening, there may be more places to go within your community, and more opportunities to see people you haven’t been with for some time. Even so, it’s likely there are people in your child’s life that you are still unable to see, whether it is because they are higher-risk individuals who are self-isolating or because travel between states has not yet fully resumed. We are moving in to our fourth month of diminished contact with our loved ones, and as ever, looking for ways to keep up connections with those who are in our hearts, even when they can’t be in our homes.
Our children, too, have felt the isolation. We want to make sure that our children continue to maintain important relationships with family members and friends they’re not able to see in person. When your child has autism, this can be even more of a challenge. As we continue down this road of reduced in-person contact, it’s important to help our children preserve their ties with others. Video conferencing, such as Zoom or Skype, can be one way to keep these bonds strong.
Maintaining a wide network of support for our children within our communities is another reason to stay connected. Even if relating to others is difficult or connecting via video conferencing isn’t particularly meaningful for your child, it can serve to keep your child at the forefront of the thoughts of others. Helping your child’s community to keep them in mind, make regular contact, and show their love and support can have long-term benefits on both sides of the relationship.
Here are some tips to help make video-conferencing with family members a little more successful:
To reduce stress on yourself as the mediator, shortly before the call, take a minute to remind yourself that the most important goal is for the two parties to quickly connect and know they still care. Let go of any expectations that there will be a sustained interaction.
Prepare for a zoom session just long enough to allow everyone to say hello, and have a brief connection; too long of a session may put stress on you, your child, or the person on the other end. Unless your child is an avid zoomer and the person on the other end is dying for a long session, you will want to plan for a fairly short call. Really, just a few minutes on a regular basis is enough to spark recognition and rekindle the sense of connection that your child has with this person.
Your child may be at the point where they don’t yet have a spark of connection with very many people, and that’s ok. It’s still important to maintain familiarity. Remember that setting up short but frequent interactions with other people in your community can also strengthen the rapport that the other person feels for your child, which may boost opportunities for further social interaction in the future.
To improve the chances of a smooth experience, you may want to prepare your child, and perhaps prepare the other party.
Choose one or two things to talk or items to show the person. Children can present a favorite toy, or art project that they have done. If your child is verbal, you might review something they’ve done recently that they can share, practice a song they can sing, or prepare them to tell a favorite joke. If there is a new skill that your child has that s/he is particularly proud of, this is a great time to show off. If your child may be tough to engage via video, you might consider showing the other person an interaction between you and your child, for instance, a game you play together, or something you do that boosts your child’s mood.
Some of the people you may be connecting your child with already know them well and will have excellent ideas about how to engage. Others, especially older relatives, might not be familiar or comfortable with video conferencing, and may have difficulty coming up with ideas, so it can also be useful to prepare them.
Think about things that will be most likely to catch your child’s attention. If your child likes music, for instance, zoom friends can sing them a song, play an instrument for them, or play a song that they could listen to together. If your child is interested in electronics or visual stimuli, the zoom partner could use a custom background that might be particularly interesting to your kiddo, share their screen to look at photos together, or use effects on the screen to share stickers and drawings. For children who are more verbal, you might prepare their zoom partner to tell them a joke or a story, or give them a softball question to ask your child about something they will be excited to share. If your child likes books, reading a story is another great option.
During the call, let go of the expectations that your preparation will go exactly as planned, and return your focus to the underlying goal: a short hello to maintain a link to an important person. Remember that it doesn’t have to be a long, chatty affair, it can be a 5-min operation start to finish. Give it your best effort to help your child attend, but don’t put pressure on them to sustain the interaction longer than they are interested. Go in with an attitude of flexibility – do what works, let go of what doesn’t.
Keep in mind that each conversation is just one small interaction that continues to build upon their history of rapport. Short, frequent contacts with others can help your child continue to recognize and identify those they are not seeing frequently, and can support the ongoing relationship. Put in the preparation and keep the interaction short and sweet. And of course, if you don’t feel successful the first time around, remember that practice makes progress, and keep on going.