All children and young people need support from adults during times of stress and uncertainty, including during the coronavirus pandemic. This is a challenging time for many people and this uncertainty is a significant source of anxiety, particularly for children with Autism.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
ASD is a lifelong developmental disorder that is wide-ranging. Individuals with ASD may:
- Find change and transition challenging
- Show rigid thinking
- Have repetitive movements or actions
- Display delays in communication
- Have sensory sensitivities
- Have learning disorders, or may have average or above average intelligence
- Have difficulties picking up social cues and may not interpret humour or sarcasm, often taking comments literally
- Some individuals may also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or physical impairments
It’s important to note that while many things are challenging for people on the spectrum and the people who love them, people with Autism also have many uniquely positive traits.
Many people with autism:
- Have terrific memories
- Rarely lie
- Have fewer hidden agendas
- Are passionate
- Rarely judge others
- Live in the moment
Tips for parents and carers
Talk to your child about COVID-19
Encourage (but don’t force) your child to talk about their thoughts and feelings about COVID-19 and other scary things. Describe the virus and the current situation, for example closures and social distancing. Make sure you use clear and concrete language and terms, and avoid flowery or abstract phrasing. Give them opportunities to ask questions, and inform yourself so you can give clear and factual answers that are appropriate to their age and developmental level. Correct any misinformation and put things into perspective.
Leave your child with a feeling of security and hope and avoid encouraging frightening thoughts. Help them to see that their world is basically a safe place, and that life is worth living. Try using visual supports to offer guidance on coronavirus specific actions and behaviours (such as washing hands and staying 1.5 metres apart) and to break down the steps of these new expectations.
Pay attention to your own reactions
Children may respond to the anxieties felt and expressed by the people around them. They often see and hear far more than adults are aware of, and they will take their cues for how to respond from you. If you are worried or panicked, then your child will sense this. Leave it until you are feeling more positive before you talk to your kids about what’s happening with COVID-19.
It’s crucial that parents maintain routines and rituals where possible. Knowing what’s going to take place in their day makes children feel safe and provides a sense of stability. Get up at the same time and have the same general schedule.
Children with Autism are more susceptible to social isolation and loneliness, and this may be heightened the current environment. By embracing technology your child can connect safely with loved ones. This can be done through phone calls, emails, face time, and social media. If those more immediate means are not available, writing letters is another great way to keep connected! You might need to check in to make sure social contact is continuing. Try scheduling time with friends, family, teachers and others to chat via safe online platforms.
To make managing life during COVID-19 a little bit easier for you and your family, we’ve compiled some Autism specific information, resources and tools below:
Autism Awareness Australia – Autism & COVID-19, the essentials
Autism Focused Intervention Resources & Modules – Supporting individuals with autism through uncertain times
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