How Storytelling Can Help Families With Special Needs

Guest Post by Sue Robins

The gravity of COVID-19 hit our family of three in the midst of an early Spring Break trip to the UK. My husband Mike, and my youngest son Aaron and I were meandering through the English countryside in early March.

When the WHO announced the pandemic, we frantically cancelled the London leg of our trip, attempted (unsuccessfully) to fly home early, and waited out our return flight by quarantining ourselves in North Wales.

In the midst of all our adulting, freaking out, phone calling and Twitter-scrolling, we forgot about our teenager Aaron.

Aaron is 17 and happens to have Down syndrome. For him, this means he processes information differently than we do and picks up on all the emotions swirling around him. He experienced the same initial hysteria, fear and paranoia that we did, but in his own way.    

When we were safely back home in Canada, the disappointments piled on – Aaron’s cancelled birthday trip to the Auto Show and no school after Spring Break. The disappointments continue today.

I know that Aaron is scared of COVID-19. He is distraught about how this pandemic has affected his daily life. I am scared and distraught too.

Writing in my journal has been one of my comforts in times of distress. If writing helps me process my own feelings, I reasoned that maybe a version of storytelling could bring comfort to Aaron too.

Sharing our pandemic experiences can give us a sense of agency and control. We can help our kids tell their own COVID stories in different ways: through writing, photography, art, music or dance. The key is to support your child to choose a storytelling form that makes the most sense to them.

Writing isn’t Aaron’s thing, but he does love drama. Last year he embarked on an acting career. He is used to being taped for auditions, so sharing his story in video form was natural for him. 

Aaron’s style of storytelling culminated into a video that was shot with his acting coach Lane Edwards interviewing him on Skype. For Aaron it was important that he shared his story with Lane and not one of his (embarrassing) parents. Their awesome rapport shines through on the video. 

Helping our kids to share their own pandemic stories is a gift that we can give to them today. You can start by giving them space to talk without interruption and simply sit and listen without judgment. Later, you can break out the video camera, crayons, music or keyboard. Maybe banging on pots and pans at 7pm to honour our essential workers helps them express themselves. Take their lead and follow them wherever they want to go.

Telling stories helps me make sense of random events, gives me a sense of purpose and grants me a voice.  I know that supporting Aaron to discover ways to communicate his own experience, in his own way, brings him comfort too. And comfort is the one thing we collectively need right now in our uncertain world.

COVID-19 Resources for Kids + Families

BC Children’s Hospital

Fraser Health Authority

Psychology Today

Sue Robins is the author of the book Bird’s Eye View – a memoir featuring stories of a life lived in healthcare. You can find her online at www.suerobins.com, Twitter @suerobinsyvr, or Instagram @birdseyeviewbook.


For more parenting resources and tips, check out our latest issue! You can read the full March/April issue online here.

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