Autism and COVID-19: Tips for Parents

29 Apr Autism and COVID-19: Tips for Parents

While this time of sheltering-at-home can be difficult for all of us, it presents special challenges for families with children or teens with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With shelter-at-home rules in place, many of our patients with ASD are not receiving their specialized services, such as ABA, PT, OT, and speech therapy. This group of children and teens rely extensively on daily routines, which have been severely disrupted. In addition, some of these kids may have other health conditions that put them at risk for severe consequences in the event of a COVID-19 illness. 

Here are a few tips for parents of youth with ASD:

  • Structure is key: The predictability of the day is comforting to kids on the spectrum, and helps provide their cues for behavior, so try to create a routine for the entire household to follow, not just for your child with ASD.
  • Continue the same coping mechanisms and activities as before: Exercise is the most important one for many children and teens. Now that the weather is getting nicer, make sure to get your child plenty of exercise, and incorporate other activities that have historically been helpful for your child, such as music or tactile stimuli. If you are worried about how your child with ASD will maintain social distancing when outside, try to go when it’s less crowded (early in the morning, for example) or in less populated areas. 
  • Break up the learning day: There is no rule that says all school work needs to be done within certain hours of the day. Take advantage of the home-schooling opportunity to go outside and spread the classroom work throughout the day if that’s helpful for you and your child.
  • Understand that some manifestation of aggression (to self or others) is to be expected. These are stressful times for all of us, and your autistic child is no different. Stay in touch with your behavioral specialists from school or outside agencies. Consider if other factors are contributing to aggression: changes in sleep, diet, and activity level are common at this time, and these may be a trigger, and kids on the spectrum may be picking up on the stress level of others.
  • With the deluge of information on TV and the internet about COVID, remember to limit the time your family spends discussing and consuming COVID-related content. Make time for other subjects or activities: arts and crafts, puzzles, game night, video games, etc.
  • Arrange for virtual social interactions. Use the same platforms you use for other virtual gatherings: Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc., and arrange a virtual playdate. Reach out to the teacher to get ideas about how to connect with others from your child’s class. 
  • When discussing COVID with your child or teen on the spectrum, meet them at their level. Give the facts, but don’t scare them. Ask the teacher for ideas about how to present this information. Frame the discussion with something that is positive: “We can’t go many places now, but when this is over, we will go to….” Like with most aspects of parenting, other parents are a good source of information: use the virtual support groups (listed below)  or call other parents of ASD youth that you know for their ideas.
  • Caregiver fatigue is common among parents of special needs children, and this crisis only makes it worse, due to the isolation and lack of respite services. So take time for yourself: get some exercise, make sure you are sleeping well, meditate, or do whatever is calming for you. 

Autism Speaks has lots of other good resources for parents and caregivers of those on the spectrum, both children and adults. Check out their COVID page here.

Virtual Support Groups For Parents of children with ASD:

Autism Speaks Chicagoland 

Friendship Circle

MyAutismTeam Social Network for Parents

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