In this difficult time for all, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder may find it particularly difficult to understand and cope with the changes. Below are some ways to help your children through this experience:
-Provide information about the facts of COVID-19 in a way that is concrete and straightforward, while avoiding abstract language and metaphors.
-Use social stories/social narratives that contain information about the virus as well as what the new rules are (staying home, not attending school, washing hands for 20 seconds, etc.).
-Use visual cues, such as hanging up rules (e.g. No High Fives, Wash Your Hands) and/or calendars to help mark the passage of time and to allow the child to have events to look forward to (e.g. the weekend, holidays, special at-home activities with family).
Offer opportunities for expression
-Use different ways to let your child (and yourself) express your feelings about having to stay home and follow new rules. Get creative! Draw, dance, have family discussions, and model that it is okay to feel scared, anxious, sad, or confused during this time.
Prioritize coping and calming skills
-Make time for calming activities. Allow the child to choose what calms them. Some ideas include using meditation phone apps, rocking in a rocking chair, or watching a preferred video.
-Make calming activities available. Whether these activities are scheduled into the child’s day or they have access to ways of calming down when they notice that they are getting upset, allowing your child self-soothe several times a day may be helpful.
-Use exercise as a way to cope and keep calm. You can make up your own exercise routine or use a phone app to help you and your child find one that is fun and engaging.
-Children on the autism spectrum often do best when they have a routine and know what to expect. For many, staying home and following new rules is a significant disruption that is difficult to deal with. Utilizing a visual schedule may help during this adjustment period
Build new routines
-Since having the same routines may not be possible, it is important to help children learn and transition to new routines. Using a visual timer, allowing for choices (e.g. do you want to do your math homework or your social studies homework first?), providing a to-do list, and designating work stations in the house may be helpful for getting your child on the right track.
Foster connections (from a distance)
-Children on the autism spectrum may feel lonely and disconnected from others during this time. It is important to ensure that they are keeping in touch with friends and family virtually. Setting up family activities, scheduling time for social online gaming, or utilizing tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts may be particularly helpful.
Be aware of changing behaviors
-With so many changes in their environment, it may be natural for children on the autism spectrum to exhibit changes in behaviors. However, some behaviors may be indicative of anxiety and depression, which may warrant further supports. Monitor for behavioral changes related to eating, sleeping, increases in worry, irritability, and repetitive behaviors, and decreases in self-care and reach out to a professional if you have any concerns.
Tips: Children learn best when presented with the information in more than one format. Therefore, it may be most helpful to convey the information in more than one way (e.g. verbally and visually). Also, not all of these strategies work for all children, and it may be most helpful to choose the strategies that your child is already most familiar with or has had the most success with before.
For more details and resources, view more information here: https://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/sites/afirm.fpg.unc.edu/files/covid-resources/Supporting%20Individuals%20with%20Autism%20through%20Uncertian%20Times%20Full%20Packet.pdf
Author: Sophie Manevich, M.A.
Hume, K., Waters, V., Sam, A., Steinbrenner, J., Perkins, Y., Dees, B., Tomaszewski, B., Rentschler, L., Szendrey, S., McIntyre, N., White, M., Nowell, S., & Odom, S. (2020). Supporting individuals with autism through uncertain times. Chapel Hill, NC: School of Education and Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retreived from: https://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/supporting-individuals-autism-through-uncertain-times