Keeping Busy During Coronavirus

July 10, 2020

Thriving at Home: How Individuals with Developmental Disabilities Can Keep Busy and Stay Engaged All Summer Long

Even as New Jersey is slowly reopening, many individuals and families are still practicing social distancing to a great degree. This often applies especially to high-risk groups, such as the elderly, those with existing health issues, and those who have developmental delays or other challenges that may make it more difficult for them to safely return to normalcy at this time.

As a result, many folks are still finding themselves at home during the hot summer months—and they’re getting antsy. Individuals with developmental disabilities may be especially frustrated or negatively impacted as they may not fully understand why the current restrictions are in place. And, unfortunately, day programs for these individuals are not among the services that are currently being reopened.

So, how can individuals with developmental disabilities continue to not only cope, but even enjoy this unique time? We know it can be challenging, so we wanted to offer a few ideas and strategies!

  1. Maintain a routine: It’s critical that individuals with developmental disabilities be provided with the structure needed to maintain a regular daily schedule. It need not be overly rigid (unless the individual appreciates such rigidity), but it should be predictable and include opportunities for learning, exercise, and down time. For caregivers, this means ensuring the individual(s) rise each day at about the same time, get dressed in real clothes (no jammies!), and eat regular meals, sitting down at the table, each and every day. Individuals should go to sleep at about the same time every day and get plenty of rest. Be sure to make time for some sort of exercise on most days.


  1. Allow the individual input and control: Be sure to allow the individual in your care to have a say in what happens during the course of each day. Of course, there are certain tasks or activities that might be non-negotiable (such as bathing and dressing), but wherever possible, allow the individual to make suggestions and requests. It can be helpful to offer a choice of a few different options to avoid overwhelming the individual and ensure certain activities and tasks are “checked off” each day.For example, regular exercise may be a non-negotiable, but let each individual choose whether he or she would like to go for a walk around the neighborhood, take a hike in the woods, or kick around a soccer ball. While eating breakfast is required, allow the individual to choose when (8 am or 9 am) and what (cereal, eggs and toast, or even a non-traditional breakfast item) to eat.


  1. Go digital: Take advantage of activities offered online, such as SCARC’s Digital Day-Hab, which is from 9 to 11 am and 2 to 4 pm on weekdays and is aimed primarily at our traditional day-habilitation program participants. If the individual in your care isn’t a day-hab member, he or she can still participate in our Zoom at Noon sessions. Hosted by SCARC Foundation’s Chris Hemmer and SCARC Guardianship Services’ Megan MacMullin, Zoom at Noon is from 12 to 1 pm on weekdays and is open to everyone. With tons of interactive activities, crafts, guest speakers, and more, participants in these sessions will never be bored! You can even pick up pre-packaged crafting supply packs from SCARC!


Outside of these hours, individuals can engage with family and friends online, talking, singing, sharing stories, playing games such as charades, and more! Encourage the individual you care for to get creative in how he or she uses technology to connect with loved ones.


  1. Try something new: There’s never been a better time to cultivate new skills, try new hobbies, or explore new interests! Time is on our side in a way it rarely ever is, so take advantage of these expanses to encourage the individual in your care to work hard at mastering a skill they have long struggled with or have always wanted to learn (maybe riding a bike, typing, reading, sewing, handwriting, or painting).Now is also a great time to experience the wonder of growing a garden (even if it’s just cultivating a couple of plants in a sunny spot). This doesn’t need to be overly complicated: simply choose a sweet fruit or favorite veggie and plant a few in a row.


  1. Get out there: Whether you go for a car ride, hit up a drive-in movie, visit your local park, or simply head out to your backyard, be sure to experience a change of scenery whenever you can. It helps you hit the reset button, especially if the individual in your care is having a difficult day. It also helps you to enjoy the warm weather of this fleeting summer season and awaken senses that may have been dulled by too much time in one place. You might even try something outdoors that you normally do inside! Bring the movies outside with an outdoor projector and a sheet. Take a book outside and read aloud. Dine alfresco!


  1. Surf the web: If you need support and advice, you can always reach out to SCARC, but here are few resources you might find useful:


Supporting Loved Ones with Significant Needs During Challenging Times


Suggestions for Parents During Quarantine


Managing Severe Challenging Behavior in the Home during the COVID-19 Crisis


Supporting Individuals with Autism During Uncertain Times

We hope we’ve given you some new ideas for keeping busy and enjoying all the free time that we suddenly have available to us this summer. We know it’s not easy to keep coming up with new activities and that the lack of structure can be tough to cope with, so please know that we always here for you! Reach out any time you need to talk—and offer your own ideas for staying busy in the comments below. We’ll continue to get through this together!