The coronavirus has brought a lot of changes worldwide and has affected many people. It has led to the closure of a lot of businesses, schools and other industries. The change was never easy but it was extremely difficult for children with autism. The families need to adapt with the sudden changes and disruption which mean, routines, if not their lives have to change as well. This created challenging issues for autistic kids.
The uncertainty bought by the pandemic has become stressful not only to the kids in the spectrum but also to their parents. Most families have seen challenging behaviours and meltdowns from their children who are having issues coping up with the sudden change and may not know how to express their frustrations. This can be very difficult for everyone.
Because of the pandemic, the usual support or structure learnings from schools and other programs were closed. Families are advised to stay at home and advised to take online learning. Going to therapies is limited as well.
So how do we accommodate our children with autism during these difficult times?
Talk about COVID
Your child may have questions about the virus but they are unable to ask them to you. They may have heard about it during a conversation in the family. Even if your child has not come to you and opened up about the topic, find time to discuss the coronavirus with your child. Find opportunities through visual support to be able to explain well the situation we are currently in. Relay important messages to your kids like proper handwashing, social distancing and why people need to wear masks. Explain these things at your child’ developmental level.
It is advisable to turn off the news both from television and radio. Also, prevent your child from browsing the internet about the virus. They may find information or false information about the virus that will possibly cause anxiety and distress.
Plan a new schedule
Since the usual routine is no longer applicable, you have to set up new schedules and timetables. To minimise the anxiety in distress in your child, instead of making the schedule on your own, involve your child in planning their new schedule and routine.
Since children with autism always look for familiarity, create a schedule that will almost mirror their regular school day before the pandemic happened. Include breaks for snacks, lunch and playtime. You can ask them their preferred break time. For example, ask them “Do you want to go outside after your lunchtime? “Do you want to play blocks during your playtime?” If you do this, you are giving them the chance to take control during this uncontrollable situation.
Using visuals to support the steps to be taken on the day can also help. Write your schedules on the board or place it on the wall along with written words and maybe pictures that will show the activity. Using audio as a cue that it’s time for them to move on to the next activity is also beneficial.
Children with autism may struggle with sudden changes because they don’t know what to expect. But with schedules and timetables, they will be able to anticipate their next activity and they’ll find comfort.
Limit screen time
Electronics can be a helpful tool for your child to continue learning through a virtual lesson. It can also be used for them to connect with their friends and teachers so that social anxiety does not grow. In doing screen time, you should establish the right time and spaces. Assign a certain time that should be spent on online learning and another time for connecting to peers. It is important to make this clear to your child. Electronics may be a positive tool but too much screen time can cause irritability, hyperactivity and they may have a hard time sleeping.
Limit your child’s screen time and encourage them to get a healthy dose of outside.
Maintain a good sleep routine
To have a good night sleep is important for your child so instil a bedtime routine and good sleep hygiene strategies. To be able to achieve this, encourage your child to do physical activity in the form of exercise during the day. Make sure they do not intake caffeine after midday. Tell them to use the bed only for sleeping, not playing or sit on it during screen time. Go to bed the same time every night and wake up the same time every morning, every day, whether it’s weekdays or weekends.
Avail of treatment opportunities
Because of the stay-at-home orders, many medical treatments and intervention may not be available. However, there are medical professionals and therapists who have transitioned in providing treatment through online services. Find a provider that offers these services online or speak with your current therapist and find out what services you may be eligible for.
There are also therapists who offer services that centre on parents to provide them with the tools needed such as toys for autistic kids to manage interventions at home. If your child has a behavioural dysregulation, speak with your provider to see what they can do or if it is possible to do in-person service.
Find opportunities that will help you maintain your child’s acquired skills and learning during regular interventions and treatments. Continue to connect with your provider whether things are going well or not.