Written by: Jessica Ryan, LCSW, CHW
In 2020, the Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2020) reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). During this time of limited social contact, significant changes in routine, and limited access to support services it could be challenging for families helping a child with ASD cope.
There is a saying that if you have met one person with Autism then you have met one person with Autism. Each child is going to display a uniqueness in how the changes of COVID 19 affect them and how to support them. Here are some basic ways to support your child during this time:
Communicate accurate information about the virus and assure safety: Listening and validating a child’s feeling and concerns about information they have heard or feelings that they are having. Remember that validation is not saying that you agree with them. Validation is simply saying I hear you and I can see how you might feel that way. Assure them of the steps that your family is taking to stay safe. If your child is non-verbal or has limited communication try using pictures to allow them to share with you.
Keep the routines that you can keep and set new ones: Daily routines are important to everyone. These routines are very important to individuals with ASD. Many of our routines have changed, there are also many routines and rituals that we can help keep the same, such as mealtimes, bedtime, and other schedules. Having a visual schedule can be helpful in establishing new routines. These can be written or with pictures. Going over the schedule daily and reviewing where changes that have been made will help minimize the opportunity for meltdowns and give your child a sense of security. This may take some time to establish as we are all what is needed during this time.
Practice skills that may be new to your child: Wearing and seeing people in masks, washing hands more often, using sanitizer and many other new skills are emerging during this time. Practice these new skills and sensory experiences during non-necessary times. For example, practice wearing a mask for short periods of time and gradually increase to time that would be needed. Reinforce these new skills no matter how small.
Reach out for support: Support for yourself, family and child are important. Utilize supports (i.e. School, behavioral health centers, or mental health counselors) that you are currently connected with and find out what they can offer. Reach out, find a virtual support group or contact local agencies to find out what resources they may be offering at this time.
As parents, or caregivers we may be struggling with the new routines and added responsibilities ourselves. It is important to remember that a dysregulated adult cannot regulate a dysregulated child. During times of stress it is important that we practice self-care and self-compassion. Remembering that everyday our best may look different.
Center for Disease Control (2020). Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder: Prevalence https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html. March 2020
Coping with the Covid-19 Pandemic: Resources for Individuals and Families. Autism Research Institute. https://www.autism.org/covid-19-resources/. April 2020
Covid19: Responses and Resources. 2020. Autism Society of Indiana. https://www.autismsocietyofindiana.org/covid-19/. May 2020