Helping Kids With Autism Cope During the Covid-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has been undeniably tough on everyone. No matter your circumstances it has been and continues to be a difficult time of uncertainty. We are all weathering the same storm in different boats and for children with autism and their families it has been hard.
Pandemics and autism don't mix well. There is a huge change in routines, shortages of favourite foods and not being able to go to the places or see people that bring us happiness. Throw into the mix potentially the need to shield and not understanding why any of these huge changes are happening and you have an autism family's COVID-19 experience.
What should I tell my child about the Coronavirus and how can I help them to understand?
It’s important to speak to your child in a way that helps them to understand. This is a very confusing and frustrating time for them and they may find it difficult to express their emotions. You should keep it as simple as possible and - if you think it would help - could use a social story to get the facts across. There are lots of examples on line, but a brief example is as follows:
- Coronavirus is a virus also know as COVID-19
- It is very contagious and can make you unwell
- Symptoms include a continuous cough, a high temperature and a loss of your sense of smell and taste
- It is important to wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs and stay healthy
- We must keep a distance from people.
- We must stay at home to prevent the virus from spreading and to keep safe
- School might be closed so we might need to do schoolwork at home
- Everything will be okay and I can speak to an adult if I feel anxious or worried
You can also use communication aids such as PECs and ‘now and next’ boards to help your child understand and adjust to a new routine.
How can I help my child to adjust during the pandemic?
Communication and Routine
Whilst this is with no doubt a hard time for you, it is a very hard time for your child. Children with autism often heavily rely on routine and dislike changes and the coronavirus has in many ways turned their life upside down. Try to be calm and patient with them whilst they try to adjust to a new - hopefully short-term - normal.
If their school is closed, speak to their teacher about what activities they enjoy the most and what their daily routine is at school. Create your own schedule and routine incorporating essential activities, such as washing and eating as well as activities that they enjoy.
You should let them make some choices if you can - perhaps they can choose an activity or two or what they have for lunch. This will help them to feel like they have some control in what is an uncertain time for them.
- Quiet space - if you don’t already have one, now is a great time to create a safe, quiet place for your child. This can help them to feel calm and avoid sensory overload when they are feeling stressed.
- Go outside - if your child likes being outside, incorporating a daily walk into your routine may be beneficial for everyone. There are lots of benefits to gentle exercise and fresh air.
- Play therapy and art - you can use play therapy and art to help them express their emotions. This can be anything from blowing bubbles to squishing plasticine.
- Jumping - if you have a trampoline then allowing them time to bounce can have mental and physical benefits. You can buy indoor trampolines if you don’t have the space outside or if the weather prevents you wanting to go outdoors.
- Music and dancing - if your child enjoys listening to music and moving it then include some music time in your routine. It can really help to lift the mood.
- Screen time - now isn’t the time to limit screen time. Don’t be hard on yourself if your child is on their iPad or watching YouTube even more than usual. If it provides them with comfort and calmness then that isn’t a bad thing.
Finally, please remember to be kind to yourself during this time. Speak to others. Don’t be afraid to vent your feelings.This feels hard because it is hard, but you will get through it.