If your child’s behaviour has been increasingly challenging or regressive, or their stress and anxiety have amplified since the COVID-19 pandemic began, know that you are not alone! Changes to daily routines can be very difficult for children with ASD to deal with and adapt to under normal circumstances, so suddenly being thrust into home schooling, social-isolation, mask-wearing or attending therapy sessions via Zoom instead of face-to-face, are understandably unsettling for them. The good news is that with positive support from parents and caregivers, it is possible to establish new routines and practices to help home life run more smoothly for children with ASD and their families. [i]
Practical Ways to Help Your Child with ASD Adjust to the Challenges of Daily Life During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Talk to Your Child About COVID-19
Whether you are watching the TV, listening to the radio or simply grocery shopping, it is almost impossible not to hear or see something related to the coronavirus. As an adult, this constant barrage of information can be overwhelming so it’s not surprising that children are finding the current situation difficult to process. In order to alleviate your child’s worries and to ensure they receive easily digestible and age-appropriate information, it is important to discuss the coronavirus with them.
Try to communicate in ways that are appropriate to your child’s preferences. For example, children who have social communication difficulties may find visual communication extremely beneficial. Parents and caregivers might consider using visual and social stories to explain what is happening during the pandemic, such as how germs are making people sick, and what to do, such as washing hands thoroughly, and cover our coughs and why adults are wearing masks etc.
Create a New Normal for Your Family
Families can create a ‘new normal’ by incorporating activities that address social-communication skills, sensory challenges, behavioural responses into daily routines. Try using picture illustration for each task, and break it down into explicit small steps that are easy for your child to understand and follow.
Create Visual Schedules
Visual schedules are a highly effective intervention tool that can help children with ASD stick to a routine, transition between activities, learn new skills, and lessen their reliance on caregivers for daily tasks. Depending on the age of your child and their preference, you can create a visual schedule using photographs, video, line drawings, symbols, text, apps or any other visual format that easily explains to your child what to do. A schedule should list a series of tasks that your child must do, in the order they should be completed. Using visual schedules has a range of benefits, such as:
- helping children to become more independent during specific activities
- improving functional living skills like cleaning and cooking
- teaching academic, play and social skills
- increasing on-task behaviour
- reducing tantrums and other disruptive behaviour
- making transitions easier
Engage in Outdoor Activities
The benefits of engaging in outdoor activities can’t be underestimated, especially during a time when most of us have spent an inordinate amount of time confined to our homes! Not only does getting outdoors provide children and their parents or caregivers with a welcome change of scenery, it also provides them with an opportunity to burn off some of their negative energy and meet their regulation needs. That’s good for all of us right now!
- Ball work using an exercise ball can be great for the whole family (can use etsy book for image here or downloadable link)
- Trampoline games such as jumping to pop bubbles while bouncing
- Scooter and bike riding around the block before and after school
- Scooter board games – for those that have one at home the games are endless. Try laying on the stomach and propelling with arms down the hallway to collect a puzzle piece or beanbag
Engage in Indoor Activities
Engage in a range of age-appropriate indoor activities that provide a number of related benefits, such as improved motor skills, hand-eye coordination, attention and learning about the various senses.
- Breath work with pop pom blows or creating bubble volcanos (can use etsy resource here as a picture or a downloadable link when sign up to newsletter)
- Putty or playdough work
- Tactile boxes: fill boxes with either rice, lentils, kinetic sand or even water beads – then hid treasures inside for your child to find or even just immerse their hands in the texture
- Animal walks can be used instead of walking to brush teeth or in an obstacle course in the back yard
Art and craft activities can help children with ASD integrate their senses, and can be a fun and effective way of increasing attention span and self-expression, whilst also reducing anxiety and worries.
Sensory play can help children with ASD adapt to the new normal of spending more time indoors and at home. Some fun sensory activities are:
- making sensory bottles or collages
- drawing and colouring
- I-spy bottles
- exercise routines
- making a family kindness jar and worry jar
- reading a book
- playing games such as guess who, spot it, rush hour or tricky fingers
- keeping a diary
Stimulate your child’s curiosity with virtual activities that allow them to explore the outside world from inside the home. If you have internet access and a device it is easy to find virtual field trips to places like:
- the zoo
- the aquarium
- a museum
Parents and caregivers can enhance this experience by asking questions that encourage your child to be curious and explore.
Motivate Kids are an Occupational Therapy Practice located across 3 locations in South Australia. Therapy supports children to develop their sensory integration, emotional regulation, attention, and executive functioning as well as motor and social skills. Children may have a diagnosis such as Autism, ADHD, Developmental Delay, Trauma or may just not be hitting their milestones. Motivate Kids recognise the transference of therapy ideas across all children to support them to live their best lives.
[i] The puzzle of Autism in the time of COVID-19 pandemic: “Light it up Blue