As humans, we are wired to crave predictability and routines. As parents, we are taught that routines are helpful and healthy for our children. And the current crisis has disrupted routines for young and old alike. Some children crave, need, and depend on routines even more than others. Today, we bring you the COVID-19 experience of Bryan Levine, whose son with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) falls into this category. Bryan is a lawyer who is also the co-creator of Mindful Return’s Balancing Career with a Special Needs Child program. Here’s how he and his family are coping during this crisis.
Over the past couple of weeks, practically every aspect of life we take for granted has changed in one way or another. The simple act of going to the grocery store is fraught with anxiety and subject to rituals that just last month would have seen bizarre.
But as the frustrations and inconveniences mount, I do realize I have to take a step back. If I’m struggling to make sense of living in a world that presents a new challenge every day, imagine how it must be for my special needs child? Because if the world is making less and less sense for me, how is it for someone who was struggling to make sense of the world before this all started happening?
A Disturbance in the Routine – When the Routine is Everything
As I’ve written about here before, I am a dad to an amazing eight-year-old boy on the autism spectrum. I’ve committed myself to finding a manageable work-life balance so I could both support my family and be there to help him meet the challenges that life is throwing at him. In the past three weeks, those challenges have been immense.
My son, and children on the spectrum generally, find comfort in routine, planning, and knowing what’s around the corner. The unknown can be the basis for anxiety and panic. Surprises can send him down a rabbit hole. Change must be gradual. Flexibility must be learned.
The past few weeks have put the need to establish routine and learn how to be flexible to the test. Practically every part of my son’s routine outside of the house has ended. And much of that routine has been brought into the house. Of course, there’s no more going to school (more on that later), and with it, no more lunch bunch. No more recess on the playground. No more sound of a teacher’s voice offering encouragement, guidance, and praise. Or Monday Tae Kwon Do. No more Tuesday social group. No more Sunday swim lesson. And no more science museum. No more trips to the grocery store. No more playground. Or going out for pizza. No more, no more, no more.
While I am trying to figure out ways to help my son navigate this strange new world, I am also finding my footing. Like many people, I am now working remotely. Just as my son has his routines that have been challenged, mine have as well.
An Opportunity to Find a New Work-Life Balance
I often come back to a great line from The Simpsons that has become somewhat of a mantra for me. It’s the one where Lisa tells Homer that the Chinese have the same word for crisis as for opportunity. “Yes,” replies Homer, “crisitunity!”
Whether that’s true or not (and if it is, the word likely isn’t “crisitunity”), the point is well taken. What we are living through right now is a crisis, no doubt about it. But out of that crisis comes opportunity.
One thing I am finding, somewhat ironically, is that I seem to have some more time for my family. I’ve realized that I waste an awful lot of time commuting to and from work. On a bad day, its almost four hours total. That’s a good chunk of time to do a lot of the things I keep telling myself that I’d do, if only I had more time. Well, now I have that luxury.
So the idea I’m working with is spreading out my day. Rather than condensing my day to get out of work as soon as possible to commute and be home at a decent time, now, I can stretch it out. I don’t have to commute, so I don’t have to go to sleep so early. This means I can work later, which means I have more time during the day. More time to provide the support and encouragement that my son is missing by not being in the classroom setting.
Blending Home, School, Work, and Family Time
The logistics of this are slowly falling into place. Calls that I don’t schedule and meeting work deadlines takes up about half my work day, which means half of my work day is flexible – I can do something now, or I can do it at 10 PM. If I do it later, I can help with school work or take breaks with my son. One thing I’m doing is that for a little each day when he’s working on a subject that’s challenging, I let him do the work with me in my office.
His daily curriculum incorporates exercise and other non-academic activities into his day. And I can now do those with him, schedules permitting. Luckily, the weather has been somewhat cooperative, so later in the day has been a great time for outside activities, just unfortunately not the park or playground. And being home every day for dinner has been pretty great, too.
For My Family, Forging New Routines is Key
So, the routine I’ve been working through tries to make the most of this unprecedented situation, taking this opportunity to shift the work-life balance. Each family’s situation presents its own unique challenges. But for me, coming up with a new set of routines has helped my family try to weather this storm.
Bryan Levine lives in New Jersey and works in New York City in Compliance for Citigroup, having previously been a litigation associate at law firms in Washington, D.C. and New York. Bryan’s focus on work-life balance came after his son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at 26 months. Realizing the challenges his son would face – physically, socially and emotionally – Bryan put a plan into action to alter the balance between his work and home life, to become a more active, engaged dad and advocate for his son. He is one of the co-creators of Mindful Return’s Balancing Career with a Special Needs Child.