How to Help Your Autistic Child During the Coronavirus Outbreak.
Posted by: Sue Atkins
Krittika joined me on my daily ‘Don’t Stew – Ask Sue’ Instagram Live that I have started doing every day at 10am asking me about tips to help her autistic son cope with all the changes that Coronavirus has brought.
Here are some tips to help and I’d love to see you over on my Instagram Live as @SueAtkins18
Sudden change is never easy and often bewildering, but for young people & children on the autistic spectrum, it’s particularly difficult to navigate – and sometimes really distressing.
The coronavirus spread has resulted in unprecedented change. Schools have shut, parents and children are home full time & everyone is staying in for weeks on end with the intention of slowing down the pandemic. This has meant that many families are having to change their routines, if not their lives, which is creating unique issues for caregivers and people with autism.
- Conversations. The important thing to remember is that people with autism, and those who look after them, need to be part of the conversation.
- Facts. Give your children facts regarding the coronavirus, that are age and stage appropriate and say that we are all in this together, but try not to have the news on the television or radio too much and try to encourage your child not to search for further information on the internet, as misinformation is likely to raise their anxiety.
- Handling Disappointment. If your child is disappointed about activities that were planned being cancelled, make a poster with them of the activities to be rescheduled when it’s possible so they know they will not be forgotten.
- Structure. Leaving the day unstructured is likely to be far more stressful than creating a new timetable to follow for autistic children. Make some daily planner cards that they can draw and colour in, or download from the internet, of things that are planned each day will give them security knowing what’s coming. Autistic children will feel better with a visual timetable and if there are changes you can adapt it each day – create home routines around things like:
- Having breakfast together
- Doing P.E with Jo Wicks at 9.30
- Doing some maths
- Playing your guitar
- Running round the garden
- You get the idea – you can put exact times in too if your child prefers it.
- Food Changes. If you are starting to find that you can’t get the food that you usually buy on your weekly shop, you could think about making an inventory of food that is available to you with your child, and plan meals a few days or a week in advance if possible so if the food is slightly different from normal, your child has been given some notice which will help them adjust.
- Noise Levels. With most of the family being at home, rather than at school or work, it is important to help your child navigate this new environment. It’s important to consider noise levels in your home as more of you are at home than normal. Due to sensory sensitivities, your child may become more aroused and anxious with more people in the house. Think about how you can minimise this. Does your child need to use ear plugs at home or listen to their music through head phones?
Do they have a quiet space they can go to if needed, with items in that space that will calm them?
I would try talking to your child about the early warning signs that show they might be becoming over-stimulated. Have an agreement that if they feel these signs or you spot them, there is a code word or a sign they can use, and that is when they can always access their quiet space to calm.
- Sleep. Sleep is so important to a child’s mental wellbeing, and I would include:
- No caffeine after midday
- Engaging in some form of exercise if possible, in the day
- Only using the bed for sleep at night time (not sitting on it on iPads during the day, for example)
- No screens an hour before bed
- Establishing and maintaining a bedtime routine so the body learns the next thing in the routine is sleep
- Go to bed at the same time every day and get up at the same time every day, whether a weekday or weekend
- Encourage virtual meet-ups. Try to help your child stay in touch with the people they are close to. I would encourage some form of contact via the internet or phone with their friends so that social anxieties don’t grow when they reintegrate with their friends and fellow pupils, and social distancing eventually ends.
There is also useful information from charities including the National Autistic Society. https://www.autism.org.uk/
- Social Stories can be useful in helping your child to adapt to change and make information easier to digest. That’s also something the National Autistic Society is recommending people download here.
- New Normal. Perhaps the most helpful tip is to find a new normal’ during lockdown and to make sure that this new routine contains some traces of the old one for example: getting up at the same time despite being at home.
Autistic & Unapologetic
James Sinclair, from Manchester, was diagnosed with autism when he was five and has his own website which follows his journey.
After setting up Autistic & Unapologetic back in 2017, he’s now used it as a means of sharing tips for how to support autistic people during the current coronavirus pandemic.
It includes everything from explaining Covid-19 to people with autism – helping to ground their understanding with facts if you think they would benefit from that – to what to do if an autistic person has the disease.