My name is Renee Zirkle, I am currently working as the fiscal and data specialist for the Pennsylvania Key. I am the mother of 2 wonderful sons, one of which was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder (OCD) while in preschool. Having a degree in Early Childhood Education helped me to recognize his struggles and search for support but it didn’t make parenting him any easier.
When I worked as a child care director, I made it my mission to learn as much as I could about safely and successfully including children of differing abilities in the child care setting. Almost 20 years ago inclusion was a new term. As a mom, I knew how tough it was for families to feel comfortable leaving their child anywhere without them. Finding a way to help families feel more comfortable was important to me.
When my son was young, I was fortunate to have family that could provide care for him when I needed a break or wanted to spend one on one time with my younger son. I quickly realized that not every family was as fortunate as I. Whenever I was able to suggest resources for support to these families I would, often offering myself or my staff as caregivers since the family had a relationship with us. Sometimes we would offer playdates. This way families would feel comfortable being out in the community knowing they had support with them if they needed it.
In my new position I do not have as much opportunity to support families. I do have friends that are like family to me, that I had the opportunity to support during the COVID-19 pandemic. My friends have three children and the youngest is mostly non-verbal and has an autism diagnosis. Trenton is creative, extremely intelligent and fast for an 8-year-old! Even with double locks on all the doors and a fenced yard, he has been able to escape from his parents. During the pandemic he hasn’t been out of his mom’s sight. All his classes since March were done via Zoom. This means his mom and dad have not been able to have time alone together. Recently I was able to give them a 24-hour date. It meant a lack of sleep for me, but it was so worthwhile to see the smiles on their faces when they returned home. There were a few moments when I was concerned. Fortunately, I had his brother and sister that were able to help when I was unsure.
I would encourage everyone to check on families that have been quarantined with children, regardless of the child’s abilities. Many families haven’t had a break to be an adult or a couple. The stress of the unknown and the responsibility of young children could be weighing on them. Even an hour to escape into a quiet bath would be a blessing to them if you aren’t comfortable with caregiving alone. A listening ear to a friend that is trying to decide regarding in person learning and virtual learning could help to relieve anxiety too. There are many ways we can support each other during the pandemic.
My doormat is my reminder every time I leave home, it says “Always bee kind!” The most important message I could relay to anyone.