What Support Does An Autistic Child Need During Coronavirus?

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

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In This Week’s Episode :

What Support Does An Autistic Child Need During Coronavirus?

(only available to Members of Sue’s Parenting Club Online)


You Are Still Making Memories During the Pandemic – Make Sure They Are Positive Ones

Sue’s Tuppence Worth

It’s amazing how easy it is to forget the magical little moments you assumed would get tattooed on your brain.  I really like this simple technique for holding on to happy memories that really works.

Matthew Dicks wrote in Parenting Magazine his little tip that I liked enormously?

‘I constantly hear parents say that they need to write down all the silly, sweet, and unforgettable things their children say before it’s too late, but few actually follow through. It’s a tragedy. The memories of our children are the most precious things we possess. We wouldn’t allow a dollar to pass absently through our fingers, and yet we allow these moments to pass right by us, lost in the daily grind.

As a storyteller, I must consistently generate content so I can stay onstage. And I need to tell stories about my life to keep the audience’s attention. Realising five years ago that I might someday run out of stories, I assigned myself a simple task: At the end of every day, I would sit down and record the most story-worthy moment of my day, even if that moment seemed boring, benign, uninspiring, and not worthy of telling at all. I would ask myself: “If I were forced to tell a story from my day, what would that story be?” I called it Homework for Life.

I decided not to write the entire story down because that would require too much time and effort. Instead, I created an Excel spreadsheet. In column A, I listed the date. Then I stretched column B to the far end of the computer screen. In that elongated column B, I record my story. I intentionally limited the space I have to write—just a sentence or two to capture the moment.

I hoped that I’d find a new story every month or two. Instead, something amazing happened. By requiring myself to find a story every day, I developed an unexpectedly sharp lens for stories. I saw them where I once did not. I realized that my day was filled with story-worthy moments, both big and small, that deserved recognition and remembering.

The first time my daughter ran into dance class on her own, telling me to stay in the car.

The time my son told me that it’s not helpful when a doctor says it will only pinch but it really hurts.

The time he discovered my wife’s heartbeat and called it heart beeps.

The first (and only) time my children didn’t fight over who could sit next to Mommy in the restaurant booth.

Although I now have a spreadsheet that contains 27 pages and more than 3,500 entries, the simple act of noticing them, acknowledging them, and then recording them has cemented so many of them into my mind. But even when I can’t remember one of these memories, I can flip back to an entry, like one from March 2016 that reads: “Charlie and I rake leaves in the backyard. It feels so good to have this unhelpful little boy helping me.”

If I read that snippet now, I am right back there in the moment. I can see my 3-year-old boy struggling to wield a rake three times his size, thinking he’s helping when all he’s really doing is plowing through my leaf piles and making more work for me. I am standing in my backyard again, surrounded by leaves, watching a little boy giggle and struggle and topple over. It’s a moment that would have been forgotten.

If there were a fire in my home and I could save only one item, it would not be my signed edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country or my late mother’s recipe for meat pie (the only words I have that are written in my mother’s hand) or even Puppy, the stuffed animal that I’ve had since the day I was born. It would be my Homework for Life spreadsheet.

Of course, it is now saved to the cloud in multiple locations, so in reality, I’d probably grab my mother’s recipe and apologise to Puppy on the way out. But without a doubt, the spreadsheet is the most valuable thing that I own.

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Message from Sue :

Someone wrote in on my daily Don’t Stew – Ask Sue Instagram Live every day at 10am asking about tips to help her autistic son cope with all the changes.

  • Sudden change is never easy and often bewildering, but for young people on the autistic spectrum, it is especially difficult to navigate – and sometimes distressing.
  • The coronavirus spread has resulted in unavoidable change, schools shut, parents and kids home, staying in all the time for weeks at an 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.
  • The important thing to remember is that people with autism, and those who look after them, need to be part of the conversation.
  • 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 a child not to search for further information on the internet, as misinformation is likely to raise anxiety.
  • If they are 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.

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 photos of things that are planned each day to give them security knowing what’s coming.

Schools do this visual timetable and change it each day – things like:

  1. Have breakfast together
  2. Do P.E with Jo Wicks at 9.30
  3. Do some maths
  4. Play your guitar
  5. Run round the garden

You get the idea – you can put exact times in too if your child prefers it.

  • 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.
  • 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 the house if more of you are at home than normal. Due to sensory sensitivities, the young person may become more aroused 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 is so important to mental state, 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 bed time 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 week day 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 do not grow when they reintegrate with their friends and fellow pupils, and social distancing ceases. There is also useful information from charities including the National Autistic Society. https://www.autism.org.uk/

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Don’t Stew – Ask Sue Parenting Q & A

Q. Dear Sue, I’m worried about lock down as I’m recently divorced. My kids are still reeling from the changes but adding this awful Coronavirus into the mix is freaking me out. What is your advice? Liz Jackson, New Addington, Surrey

Sue’s Answer can be found in her Article below :

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