Managing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be more challenging now that kids are supposed to stay home to be safe from COVID-19.
Without the usual intervention of developmental pediatricians or specialists involved in a child with autism’s program, parents and caregivers are left to manage the situation themselves.
Findings from initial studies show that advanced medical imaging is a powerful tool for detecting early signs of autism. This tool also helps in investigating brain structural changes in children with ASD.
Using brain imaging data, medical professionals can gather insights on brain activity and how it responds to various environmental factors.
Children with autism may have difficulty adjusting to changes in the environment, lifestyle, and routine, leading to stress and anxiety.
Thus, setting routines and having clear expectations can help your child understand what’s going on around them and help them cope during these trying times. Here are some valuable tips for managing autism during the COVID-19 quarantine.
Establish a Daily Routine and Schedule
Setting a routine is helpful for anyone in the family, especially for children with ASD. The predictability of routines helps your children understand what behavior is expected of them.
Changes in routine can be overwhelming for kids on the autism spectrum. Try sticking to their daily schedules, such as regular wake-up time and bedtime, screen time, meal and snack times, and household chores.
This practice will provide your children with cues for different parts of the day and help maintain their daily living activities.
At the end of each day or activity, allow your children to check off their completed tasks.
Help your kids take control by giving them an opportunity to make a couple of choices every once in a while.
For example, you can ask what activity your child would like to do next, or let them choose what to eat for lunch.
Also, it is helpful to incorporate new routines to include schoolwork and physical activities. You can use your children’s school schedule as a guide.
Don’t forget to add breaks in between activities. Including a transition helps your kids prepare for “school” mode and “out-of-school” mode.
[Related: 6 Ways to Support Children with Autism During the Pandemic]
Create Visual Schedules
Once you have organized a routine, create visual schedules so your kids know what to expect.
Concrete, visual cues and to-do lists are beneficial tools that prepare your children mentally for the day or tasks ahead of them. You can be as creative as you want and work with what you have in your home.
Create child-friendly visual schedules with pictures, drawings, and Post-it notes. Put them in an easily accessible area, like your children’s room or workspace.
Developing a clear structure and set routine helps reduce your children’s anxiety. It often takes a while for kids to get used to these activities, so it’s essential to stay patient, guiding them through the schedule several times each day.
Use Social Stories
According to the National Autistic Society, social stories can help people with ASD learn appropriate behaviors and develop a greater social understanding.
Social stories are brief descriptions of a specific situation, event, or activity, including details of what to expect in that situation and why.
Children on the autism spectrum need extra support to understand what’s going on around them and what’s expected of them.
Using written or visual cues may help your children navigate unfamiliar situations and adapt to new routines.
Through social stories, you can also teach and explain to your kids what COVID-19 is. It will help them understand the following:
- Why many children are attending school from home
- Why they should wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth
- Why it is important to wear a mask in public and maintain a safe distance from others
Continue Therapies at Home
During this time, helpful therapies and interventions outside the home might be paused or discontinued. You can contact your child’s school or other therapists to determine which treatments are available to continue at home.
Set Boundaries Within Your Home
If you are working at home and caring for your children during quarantine, try creating different activity zones.
Allocating certain areas to specific activities may help separate your personal time and time with your kids from work time.
For instance, you can designate parts of your living space for academic activities, eating, and recreation.
Getting up and doing different things in different places encourages physical movement, even if you’re staying home.
Technology may also be necessary as most resources are currently accessed via computers, tablets, and phones. Set clear limits on screen time for your children.
You can use visual schedules to help your kids understand when they can use gadgets and to help them determine if it’s for educational or recreational purposes.
Identify Your Child’s Coping Strategies
Children on the autism spectrum may express their anxiety or fear by throwing tantrums and displaying challenging behaviors. Find calming or coping strategies as a proper outlet for your child’s emotions.
Take note of the activities that help your child calm down. It may be through deep breathing, exercise, listening to music, writing, reading, or drawing.
Schedule time for coping strategies throughout the day and include reminders in the kids’ visual routines.
To build a stronger relationship with your child, talk to them regularly and ask them to express anything on their minds.
Allow them to communicate their needs and wants intentionally. Offering emotional support will help ease their fears and anxieties.
Try to schedule breaks for yourself during the day. Taking a breather is just as important for parents to relax their minds.
Self-care is vital to our mental, emotional, and physical health. It is key to a good relationship with oneself and the people around us.
Don’t forget to make self-care a priority, even in the most simple ways. Find some time for yourself to relax each day, take deep breaths, talk to a friend, or prepare nutritious and filling snacks.
Allot time to engage with your children and plan some activities they can do alone. If possible, you can ask someone to watch over them while you take a break.