Happy World Autism Month! 💙
With today's world constantly changing each day due to corona virus, it's so important to come together as a community and to help each other navigate through this "new life" of social distancing and self-isolation. For families with children who have autism, they can face many new challenges due to school closures, program shut downs and no at-home support services.
In light of World Autism Month, here are some useful tips for parents and children with autism to help them cope during these challenging times while staying safe at home.
Keep routines as consistent as possible
Create a consistent routine and schedule to help reduce any new behaviours from happening. Many children with autism are very aware of their daily routines and you can set your children up for success by keeping their daily routines consistent and predictable. If a change needs to occur, let them know in advance by providing them with visuals or simply just talking to them about it.
For children out of school, try to stick to their normal school schedule as much as you can. So have your child wake up and eat breakfast the same time they normally would, go for a walk in your neighbourhood in place of school drop offs, improvise and provide academic or social activities for the duration of what a typical school day or therapy day would look like and try to keep lunch at the same time as well. Once 'the school day is finished', participate in another walk in the neighbourhood to get that second or third round of gross motor movement in. For the evening, stick to your regular dinner and sleep time.
Limit demands and changes
This goes hand in hand with the first tip. If you feel your child is experiencing signs of stress or other mental health symptoms, reduce a chore or demand by one or two. Sometimes what we may think of to be a little chore (like making one's bed) may be the reason the child is experiencing challenges throughout the day. If you notice your child struggling, complaining or seeking assistance, do your best to tune in and re-direct or assist your child the best you can. This can also be applied to any changes you may notice that may cause disruptive behaviour.
Create a daily visual schedule
A visual schedule is a great way for a child to gain understanding of what their day is going to look like. They can be used in various settings to assure the child stays on task and understands what is expected of them.
A great example is to use 7 to 8 visuals of real-life images attached to velcro pieces and stick them onto a horizontal velcro strip in sequence to create a simple interactive visual schedule. Not only is it easy to make but in my experience, it has also worked the best with children. Once your child completes a task, engage them to put the piece back in an envelope to help them follow along with the schedule.
Expand on interests
There's no better time than now to let your child expand and explore their interests. If your child likes to draw, provide them with activities where they can be creative. If your child likes music, let them play around with instruments that you have at home or even just let them watch online videos on how to play a particular instrument. Use this time to work on building some of your child's skill sets to foster growth while also focusing on what brings them joy.
(If you need assistance, feel free to reach out for enhanced, age-specific activities that can be completed at home.)
Get plenty of exercise – including fresh air
Staying home all day everyday can be especially harder on kids, so even just taking them for a walk around the neighborhood (while still social distancing of course) for a little cardio and to get some much needed crisp spring air can instantly help brighten your child's mood and boost their energy levels.
Make quiet time
Without the hustle and bustle of regular life, carve some time out of your day to engage in silent and solo activities. This goes for both parents and children. You can each silently read a book together or have your child colour and draw or play with some toys quietly in their room (with supervision of course). Whether you and your child like to read, play or simply just curl up in bed, giving children and parents some down time to distress and recharge is just as important to get through the day.
Listen to calming music
The uncertainty surrounding us right now due to the virus can spike up a lot of anxiety and calming music can help soothe your child's body into a calm state. You can have your child listen to music while relaxing in a quiet area of the house when he/she is feeling distressed, or if your child's sensory outlets allow for it, play calming music softly in the background throughout the day.
FaceTime or Skype with family and friends
Fortunately with technology at our fingertips, parents can set up facetime and zoom or skype chats with other family members and friends to stay connected during these times of self-isolation (so your kids can still stay in touch with grandma and grandpa 😊). We all are observing physical distancing but alone, we are together.
Read a social story
Social stories can be helpful at anytime for children to gain stronger and new social skills. When specific skills are explained through stories and visuals, children are able to grasp and understand the concept differently. You can create social stories on a variety of topics, such as Covid-19, potty training and sharing toys, and you can read these stories individually or together as a family.
Teach proper hand washing
Now more than ever, hand washing has become a crucial step in fighting against the virus, and for children, this task can be uninteresting and insignificant. The best and most effective way to assist and teach your child how to wash their hands is to ensure all the materials are readily available. Ensure the water temperature is pre-set and there is a soap dispenser and a dry cloth nearby. A soap dispenser is best because this is what children see in public restrooms and school bathrooms rather than a bar of soap. Also, it is very important to use the same terminology when asking your child to wash their hands. For example, always use the same words "wash your hands" or "clean your hands", whichever is suitable to use every time. And lastly, make it enjoyable and engaging. You can do so by simply coming up with a hand washing song you and your child can sing together.
If you found these tips helpful and would like some more ideas, contact us to book a free consult and we can provide more resources and work with you to create a plan tailored to your child's specific needs.