Autism is a developmental disorder that lasts a lifetime. It is not a disease, and because of that, cannot be cured. It can simply be treated; the disorder impacts how they (those with autism) communicate, understand, and relate to other people, and how they experience the world. As those who suffer from autism cannot communicate properly, the COVID-19 ordeal is equally as damaging and harrowing. There is an autism scale, with some being affected more than others, and while some may have managed fine, others may not. This page will hope to tell you how to support children with autism during the COVID-19 pandemic, and any future pandemics that may befall us.
It is important to explain the pandemic to those who suffer from autism carefully. While many will understand it, others may not, and therein lies the problem. It is a situation too dangerous for anybody to be unaware of it, so you must do your best to break it down as simply as possible. As with any pandemic, there will be disruptions to their (autism patients) schedules, which can be very hard to deal with for them, and some may act out and display behavioral problems.
Here is how to support children with autism during the pandemic and help them to relax and remain comfortable.
As was mentioned in the introduction, the first thing you should do is explain the situation to them and hope that they will be able to comprehend and understand everything that you are saying to them. If they cannot, then you will find other solutions below.
As those with autism struggle to comprehend social principles or cannot (or struggle to) understand you, you may have to create social stories in order to explain the pandemic. You can do this through videos or online graphics available through websites that offer autism resources and information. Many leading experts recommend that you explain the virus to them in the least scary way that you can, lest they grow fearful and apprehensive. Unnecessary anxiety is never helpful.
Experts in the field of autism also recommend minimizing exposure to the news – having the news or the radio on can excessively make the situation unbearable and create further anxiety. Prevent your children or friends from reading about the pandemic online where they are significantly more likely to discover misleading and scary information.
Those who suffer from autism the worst often associate seasons with periods of change and interruption in their schedules, for example, the summer holidays. Children who suffer from autism seek familiarity, so during this considerable period of home isolation while their routine has been broken, establish a new, transient one. Try to mirror their ordinary morning routine when they were going to school with breaks for snacks, lunch, and exercise, as they would in school. Instead of completely mimicking their previous routine, or creating a new one, attempt to create one with the person suffering from autism, whether child or friend. By making them feel involved in the creation of their own schedule they will feel far better.
Visual and Audio Cues
Visual and audio cues are a great way to reinforce their new routine. Using visual and audio cues as part of your schedule will be very beneficial and will help to cultivate a routine. The visual cues could be, for example, photos of them doing activities, such as eating, playing, or working – and at the same time, you could use resources from online autism services. Audio reminders are another great way to help form a routine and help one activity turn into the next.
Children with autism, as you may already know, or have read above, have huge difficulty with social interaction and communication. That, however, does not mean that they will not be bothered by an absence of social interaction like school or playgroup. In fact, many children with autism actually hold onto these social interactions, despite not being very good at them, as a type of safety net. Many autistic children seek out social communication notwithstanding their ability to communicate.
During the global pandemic, which is still ongoing, many schools offered online classes wherein students could communicate with one another through virtual video platforms. Consider enrolling your child in one of these, as communication is not just a form of therapy, but rather, improves social bonds and connections.
Ordinarily, as part of your child’s usual routine, you may limit their screen time. With the amount of time that they will now spend at home, you should relax your screen time rules and allow them longer to use devices for remote learning. Too much screen time, especially for autistic children, can make them hyperactive and unable to sleep. You will have to increase their screen time, but try and create a reasonable balance that does not affect their health significantly. If you allow for too much time on electronic devices, their behavior may get out of control and become challenging to manage on your own.
As a consequence of the global lockdown and restriction on movements, treatment, intervention, and medical appointments may be completely unavailable. There are many autism service providers, however, that will allow for e-appointments and video calls. You should contact your local provider and find out what is offered in your area.
As was mentioned previously, many appointments, therapists, and treatment centers are closed, which means you will have to do their job for them. This means regular self-care. You should have your child or dependent exercise regularly and spend as much time outdoors (in a safe environment) as you can and try to establish any problems that they may be experiencing. You should work very hard to make the lockdown experience manageable for your child and ensure they are not suffering. Too much isolation, even for adults, is hard, so for your autistic child, the hardship may be experienced tenfold. Be kind, attentive, and loving.
Now you know several ways to support your autistic child or dependent during the current global lockdown, and during any future lockdown that may arise. They say that this virus, the COVID-19 virus, will have a significant second wave in the winter months, so while our own social distancing restrictions may be easing, there is always the chance they could recur.
Photo by Ashton Bingham on Unsplash
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