Supporting Children With Autism During COVID-19

People everywhere are feeling the effects of social distancing. Although this is a necessary precaution to protect one another, social distancing and prolonged isolation may trigger significant mental health issues. These changes are challenging for everyone. However, for children with autism, in many ways, COVID-19 has turned their world upside down.

Across the United States, millions of children are now home from school, and some parents may be facing the loss of their jobs, creating a stressful home environment. For parents of children with autism, current stay-at-home orders have created a number of additional challenges. If you’re a parent of a child with autism, here’s a few ways to help support your child during COVID-19 and how you can adapt so that your child is more comfortable and calm during this unprecedented time — all while keeping them safe and healthy.

Learn More About Teaching Your Child with Autism from Home

Let’s Talk About Autism And Social Distancing

Roughly 1 in 54 children in the United States have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These children thrive on routine, and unfortunately, the current pandemic is forcing them to adjust to new day-to-day routines. In addition, many parents worry that new isolation measures may cause their child to regress.

For example, many children with autism have access to beneficial resources and therapy through their school. From occupational therapy to speech therapy, applied behavioral analysis therapy to social skills training, these sessions are a key part of a child’s routine and overall development.

At the moment, these programs have been brought to a halt. Although telehealth options are available for some children, once again, the transition may not be an easy one. Not to mention the domino effect felt due to all other cancelations — after school programs, recreational activities, family gatherings, you name it.

Experiencing one change after another, for many children with autism, this is causing immense feelings of anxiety.

Helping Your Child Understand the Importance of Social Distancing During This Time

It’s tough for any parent to communicate with their child right now about the coronavirus. However, parents and caretakers of children with autism are facing unique hurdles.

As reported in a recent NPR interview, a brother discussed his family’s situation. Although his mother is a retired teacher who had worked with people with developmental disabilities for over three decades, she was not prepared for the conversation she would need to have with her 30-year-old son with autism surrounding the current pandemic.

She wanted to stress the fact that her son’s grandparents were vulnerable to the virus and that they needed to work together to keep everyone safe. Leveraging a video produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, she found that the visuals were really helpful in assisting her explanation.

Here is a short-list of videos that do a great job of explaining the virus using plenty of visual imagery. As you know, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, as each child with autism is unique, so choose resources that you think will provide the most optimal message.

ASERT has also released, “social distancing social story” — a visual guide intended to help individuals with autism better understand the importance of social distancing when people are sick.

How to Help Your Child More Easily Adapt During COVID-19

Once your child better understands why they need to practice social distancing, you can then use some of the things they learned to establish new routines at home that help them stay healthy. For example, the importance of hand-washing may be a good place to start. Depending on how you best communicate with your child, you could:

  • Get into the routine of pretending to wash your hands beside them while they wash theirs
  • Turn hand-washing into a game or create a “hand-wash picture symbol” together, posting it next to the sink
  • Use rewards or motivators to encourage this behavior (i.e. start a sticker chart to work towards prizes, such as extra time spent with their favorite toy)

Read About Great Sensory Toys For Children with Autism

During their time at home, create opportunities for your child to express themselves. For example, each day, at the same time, you could have arts and crafts time together. Create daily schedules that focus on activities your child loves, including puzzle time and outdoor playtime. Write out a weekly schedule using pictures, as well as a choice board (offering a “menu” of potential activities to choose from).

When it comes to COVID-19 and kids with autism, it is important to maintain as much of their previous routine as possible while implementing new ideas that respect social distancing protocols. For example, you can schedule in digital communication time to help foster connections. Your child may want to speak with their grandparents or cousin, so be mindful of what makes them feel at ease during this time. There are many apps you can use including Skype, FaceTime, Hangouts, and Zoom.

As a parent, it’s imperative that you remain aware of any significant changes in behavior and if possible, continue any therapy sessions you feel are necessary online. If you are looking for at-home autism therapy with a Carmen B. Pingree therapist, lesson plans, or assistance on how to better care for your child during this challenging time, feel free to contact us today!

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