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2020’s ending, but change is not: How we’ll make it through


As we begin 2021, Understood is predicting changes ahead for people with learning and thinking differences and disabilities. This is part one of a four-part expert series on our 2021 predictions.

As we approach the new year, lots of parents are understandably focused on the present. For many, it’s not a good place to be. In addition to the day-to-day stress of balancing school, childcare, and work in a pandemic, they’re watching their children fall farther and farther behind in school.

Research confirms what some families have seen at home: Remote learning has been detrimental for many children. That’s particularly true for kids of color and kids with disabilities. Kids who learn and think differently have faced specific types of stress.

But with vaccines rolling out in 2021, some parents are starting to think about life after COVID. For most adults, this feels like a relief. For kids — especially those who learn and think differently — a return to a version of the “old normal” won’t necessarily be easy. For many, especially younger ones, the pandemic is the normal they know.

As the virus comes under control, what’s normal will change again. In 2021, parents will find that their children need to rebuild skills, whether for school or for life in general. The pandemic has impacted how some kids will be able to interact with other people and handle new situations. Some may need help to regain confidence and self-esteem.

While 2021 may bring relief and hope about the future, it will also bring new challenges for kids who learn and think differently.

The new skills they’ve gained for remote schooling may become less relevant. They’ll need to remember or learn other skills to help them rejoin the classroom in person.

Outside of class, gatherings with family and friends may feel overwhelming. And kids will struggle to readjust to their parents spending time outside the home. Some kids, like those who struggle with flexible thinking, will find it particularly hard to adapt to these changes.

COVID turned everything upside down for families. But some kids discovered benefits to the changes. They may prefer to keep doing some things the new way.

Some kids who have trouble with focus and impulse control and those who have sensory issues have found it easier to learn at home. And outside of school, some kids have been thriving with more time to themselves. They might be happy to keep a higher level of downtime or time spent alone. Families should look for ways to adjust family life and schedules to best support these kids.

Kids who are excited to return to pre-pandemic life will have challenges, too. They may expect the world to quickly return to the way it was before the pandemic. In fact, the changes are likely to be gradual, and these kids will be disappointed and frustrated.

On top of these challenges, older kids and teenagers have additional concerns. Many find themselves dealing with drawn-out uncertainty as they head back to work or plan for college. Kids who are old enough to understand a family’s financial difficulties are likely to face continued stress as more parents are forced out of work, particularly women and people of color.

While 2021 may bring relief and hope about the future, it will also bring new challenges for kids who learn and think differently. Some are going to need support making the transition — both at school and at home. For their parents, the coming year means continued worrying and extra work to help their children adjust. They, too, need support.

Helping kids adapt

At Understood, we’ve given parents of kids who learn and think differently strategies to cope and help their kids throughout the pandemic. We’ll continue to be there for parents in 2021. We asked Understood experts for their recommendations to help parents prepare kids for more change in the new year. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Remind kids what life was like before the pandemic.

With young children, look for TV shows and books that mirror their pre-pandemic activities. Home videos or photos will also remind kids of specific people and places they’re likely to see.

2. Give them some control.

Families should work together to plan what might change — and what might stay the same. There may be some aspects of life under the pandemic that kids would like to keep.

3. Use what’s worked before.

Make a list of the strategies you use to help your child in other stressful situations — for example, keeping a schedule or avoiding certain foods. Incorporate these strategies into your routine as things change throughout 2021.

4. Get support.

Build a network of people who can help you get through 2021. Understood’s Take N.O.T.E. tool will help you gather data to share with your child’s teacher or health care provider. Remote connections like social groups and podcasts are key for advice and connections.

Right now, it’s hard to imagine how kids will handle another year of change. But kids are resilient. By starting to think about what 2021 will look like, parents will set their kids up to thrive through another year of change.

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