The recent events around COVID-19 have dramatically altered our world in a very short spa of time. Each day is bringing new set of challenges, restrictions and uncertainties. For autism kids and families, the ability to adapt to the changes a quarantine brings can be seem extra challenging.
Many individuals with autism already struggle to manage and regulate their emotions. How do we support them through this time? Here are some tips and strategies:
Talk to Your Child About the Coronavirus
A lengthy and medical explanation is not always necessary when explaining the coronavirus to a child with autism. Since it is being heavily discussed, it is not unnatural for a child with autism to have questions.
- A simple explanation of the COVID-19 pandemic might look something like this: “The coronavirus is a new type of germ that can make people can sick. We need to keep ourselves and others healthy by staying at home.”
- It may be helpful to use social stories (a story that clarifies the situation and possible responses using words or pictures) when speaking with your child.
- Be honest with your child about not knowing all the answers right now, stay calm and convey what are you doing to keep your family safe.
Find comfort in keeping your current activities
During these times, adhering to a routine that works for parents and kids alike is essential and mutually beneficial. Try to keep your child’s previous routine as much as possible, as this will help your child manage changes in this new reality. Visual tools like colorful charts filled out with the day’s schedule can be vital in reinforcing a sense of control.
Charts will help your child “see” the time to:
- Wake up
- Eat breakfast
- Brush teeth
- Get dressed
- Do our chores
- Play and move our bodies
- Eat lunch
- Quiet time
- Play and move with mom or dad
- Visit a friend (virtually)
- Eat dinner
- Take a bath
- Brush teeth
- Bedtime reading
- Go to sleep
Children with ASD are likely to respond positively to the certainty this creates, and it will help them understand at what points of the day they can expect to learn and play, and at what points their parents will be focusing on other matters such as work.
- Ensure adequate Physical Activity time in the schedule: Include motor activities, play activities, art & structured simple home games that will provide both physical & mental well-being.
- Spend some time outside: Any activities that are done in the house garden, balcony or terrace should be taken up. In that way, you allow the children to get fresh air and sunshine and it will break the monotony.
- Prioritize Calming Skills: Everyone is in a panic state right now. And if you show that to the child, he will pick that up too. Hence, it is important to maintain a calm environment at home. Finding activities that both parents and children find calming, which can range from taking relaxing baths, to singing, practicing breathing or simply talking and make that part of a daily routine.
- Don’t get too involved in academics: Make learning fun for the child. Activities such as cooking and making crafts promote reading, math and fine-motor skills. While teaching can and should still occur during this time, it doesn’t have to be in a rigid or structured way. Make it a fun learning activity for the child to keep him engaged and will develop overall skills.
- FaceTime or Skype with Family and Friends
Consider facetiming or skype with family or friends. Staying at home means not seeing family and friends. It helps to stay connected. Connecting with a person visually gives assurance that they are well and can provide some outside interest.
- Modeling proactive protective practices can be a great way for your child to learn them.
- Demonstrate how to wash your hands. Have fun with this activity by singing songs such as “Happy Birthday” to demonstrate how long to wash your hands before stopping.
- Remind your child of the importance of handwashing after using the bathroom or eating.
Emergency Planning & Keeping Ready
- Supervision and caregivers: Who would your child stay with and where if a primary caregiver were hospitalized or otherwise physically ill/quarantined?
- An emergency plan: Create an emergency plan placed in an obvious spot in the home. This should include updated contact information incase emergency personnel have to come into the home and need information quickly. The plan can have pictures with names of people with associated phone numbers and pertinent information on it. This information should also be shared with close contacts and those involved in the plan (such as providers, extended family members, trusted neighbors, etc.)
- Regular check-ins: Identify and coordinate with a family or community member who checks in with the primary caregiver and/or child on a regular basis. Then, if a regular check-in is missed, that person has an emergency plan to follow.
We have some difficult weeks ahead, but we will get through this trying time. The most important thing right now is keeping everyone safe and healthy. Take steps to remain so by staying at home, washing hands, and covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze. These are good habits to practice all the time, but we need to be more diligent than ever.
Still need help or want specific consultation? Reach out to Autism Day Care Home by I Support Foundation and talk to our team of experts.