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  • Writer's picturePaula Migliaccio

Special Needs Teens and the COVID19 Lockdown/Schools Closed

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

How are teens handling the COVID19 lockdown/school closures--which has continued into the fall in some parts of the country (online schooling only here in southern CA), leaving them without a place to go to learn and see their friends? For many families, I've heard that some kids are sleeping through the day, not signing onto online classes to do the assignments, and generally acting like they "don't care" (see the chart above!). But underneath? I'm afraid most of them are feeling lost and depressed and might not know how to express it. This unfortunately goes double for special needs teens. I had to post this chart I saw on a Facebook post, because I think it SHOWS how different things that teens are saying are "masking" their true feelings of depression, isolation, and in some cases, despair--and we should be aware. What can we do, especially if our teen is repelling us with comments like the above?

First, just know that how WE are feeling--disappointed and let-down, not being able to go to our usual stores, services, fun hang-outs such as coffee houses, movies or eating places--they are feeling the same way as well. In many cases, their sense of structure has been completely eradicated, as school WAS the ruling structure in their lives--and now it's GONE (online school = not the same!). For teens, school can be a huge source of support from their peers and while we adults mean best, we can't give the kind of support that peers can sometimes give to them. So after we realize that our teens might be in depressive states right now, what's next to do? One thing you can do is try to help your teen have STRUCTURE every day. Try to help him/her plan out what the days will be like, creating structure for them. For example, I told my son that he must get up at a normal time every single day so that he's ready to eat the dinners I cook for us every single night--if he's getting up so late, he won't be on the same eating schedule as I am and then I'm not cooking that dinner! Apparently I cook really good dinners, because he started getting up before 12pm sometimes as early as 9-10am! You could schedule in mealtimes together in order to anchor the day, as I did with dinners, or by eating all three meals together (breakfast, lunch, dinner) at a certain set time each day. I have not been able to tell my son when to do his schoolwork (he won't listen), but if you can get your teen to schedule in a time that works best for him/her for doing schoolwork every single day, this will also add to structuring the day. Adding 30min reading time each day for fun books he/she chooses is also a great idea. There are library apps that will allow you to access books for free (see and search "library apps" for a listing). How about a family movie fun night where each member of the family gets to choose which movie will be watched and you make popcorn and treats? Anything you can add to the day/week that gets put on the schedule will help anchor the day for them--remember that while at school, they were scheduled from 7:45am until 3pm (for ex) every single day, which added tremendous anchoring structure to their lives! Also, see if you can encourage your teen to stay in touch with friends--maybe he/she can have online chats once a day to replace lost lunchtimes spent with friends at school.

Next, I think it helps everyone to have a project he/she is passionate about--find out what your teen likes, and think about a project he/she could do using that passion. For example, my son is missing volunteering at the WWII aviation museum at the airport near us, and I suggested he ask the museum if he could make a virtual tour video to help people know what the museum is about! He thought about it, but I could not get him to act on it and in the meantime, today I found out they already did a virtual tour video this past week and got it up on the site. So I need to find another possible project for my son to get interested in. Maybe your teen loves to read and would like to start a book club with other teens meeting online on Zoom--accounts are free on Zoom as long as you don't go over a 40min meeting. What about kids who loved to debate/had a debate team they were on at school OR didn't have one and could CREATE one online to debate with other kids about current events or world issues? Find out what your teen is passionate about, and then you can figure something out from there! And if you can't/your brain isn't moving in that direction--CONTACT ME--either here on my blog, or on my website, or through my email ( let me brainstorm some ideas for you! We need to get the teens feeling useful, productive and happy (generally, for a teen) again. Try out some of the above mentioned ideas, and remember--no one is immune from feeling isolated and a bit in despair about this situation--your teen is no different--but maybe with a little planning and brainstorming, you could help him/her find a way to feel a little bit better about facing each day.

Finally, think back on how important your teen years were to you--maybe you started dating or found a cool group of friends to hang out with who "got" you--and now imagine how it would be if you never had your senior year on campus. That is what my son and his friends are looking at right now, as here in southern CA schools have not gone back in person (only online). If there is any way you can get your teen to be able to connect to others--do it. If you have not really allowed online gaming in the past--reconsider it now, since this is a key way most teens are staying in touch with one another, and warding off depression. Teens need to be able to connect with their peers--it's not enough to be supported solely by the family--so please think on best ways to help your teen connect with others. For some it might be online gaming. For others, starting a zoom online book club or continuing online some other club that met at school might be a good idea--help your teen get it started if he/she needs assistance. I've personally found that having my two online knitting groups meeting each week plus a book club online discussion once a month has been essential to my survival through all this.. Find a way to get your teen to connect with others, if you can, because it's a different world right now, and this precious time of being a teenager he/she won't be able to get back. But we can help, by making sure they get the CONNECTIONS they need in order to still keep growing and developing from teenagers into great young men and women!

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