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How to help Children with Autism adjust to a pandemic (Covid-19)


While it’s a challenge for their parents with such children all round the clock, it can become even more challenging during a pandemic

While a pandemic challenges different people in different ways, it’s even more challenging for people with children with autism. Developmental disabilities like autism are brought on by variations in the brain. People with autism frequently struggle with confined or repetitive behaviours or interests, as well as social communication and engagement. Additionally, people with autism may learn, move, or pay attention in different ways. While it’s a challenge for their parents with such children all round the clock, it can become even more challenging during a pandemic. To help children with autism adjust to a pandemic, here are six suggested measures for parents.


1. Talk about COVID – but turn off the news

Children almost certainly have questions about the coronavirus and have undoubtedly overheard conversations about it, even if they haven't asked about it themselves or are unable to. To help explain the issue and reinforce important lessons like good handwashing procedures, parents should give their children the chance to ask questions and use visual aids appropriate to the child's developmental stage. You can do this by making your own drawings or by using online videos and visuals from websites like Autism Speaks (Espinosa et al, 2020).


In addition, reducing their news exposure may be helpful as news coverage on radio or television can make the topic seem overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating. Refrain from allowing kids to look up the virus online, where they could discover false information that makes them more anxious.


2. Re-create structure – and use visuals

The most difficult times for children with ASD sometimes coincide with times of year when regular patterns are disrupted, such as the summer or vacation seasons. A daily routine that loosely resembles a child's typical school day with built-in breaks for lunch, snacks, and physical activity is advised since children with ASD need familiarity. But work with kids to design a new routine rather than doing it yourself.


It is also advantageous to use aural and visual cues to encourage daily activities. Make sure the timetable is clearly apparent and think about combining written and visual elements, depending on the level of your child. Images of children engaging in their activities, such as having breakfast, playing outside, or working on academics, may be included. You might also use icons. It's also a good idea to use auditory cues, like timers, to guide them from one task to the next (Hurwitz et al, 2022).


3. Seek social outlets

Children with ASD may struggle with social contact and communication. However, that does not imply that they are unbothered by the loss of their access to social institutions like school and activities. Face-to-face interactions give children the chance to hone and improve their social abilities.


Look for ways to digitally connect kids and teenagers with their relatives, friends, and classmates via online platforms. Keep in mind that interaction with teachers and therapists serves crucial social functions for children with ASD as well as educational and therapeutic purposes (Cassidy, 2020).


Some children could also feel let down by cancelled events. To let kids know you won't forget about them, think about creating a poster detailing the activities you want to reschedule and taking virtual tours of locations that provide them, like the zoo or things that attract their attention.


4. Make screen time intentional

Experts acknowledge that, at a time when many children rely on technology for distant instruction, traditional screen time guidelines may have become a little lax. But for certain kids, especially those who might also have sensory challenges or both autism and ADHD, excessive screen usage can further exacerbate problems including hyperactivity, restlessness, and irritability (Kutscher, 2016).


It is advised to designate specific times and locations. Make it obvious when students should be in class or interacting with their peers. Reduce the amount of time that is deemed "free time", as children with ASD already frequently have trouble putting down their electronics. Be sure to spend time outside and away from technology as well.


Even if the window of opportunity is small, parents who work from home and use screens should make an effort to schedule one-on-one, screen-free time with their kids. This could be 15 minutes spent interacting with toys that encourage development, playing a game, or conversing over food (Panda et al, 2021).


5. Optimize treatment opportunities

Because of stay-at-home orders, many common interventions or medical appointments could not be offered in the same way. However, a number of service providers, including doctors, speech therapists, and behaviorists, have switched to offering online services or video visits. To find out what you might be eligible for, talk to your service providers.


To give parents the ability to manage interventions at home, some therapists have also changed their approach to focus on a parent training model. However, some kids may exhibit a substantially higher level of behavioural dysregulation. In that instance, parents should contact service providers to see whether they are eligible for in-person services.


This could also be a chance to explore alternative objectives like practicing independent skills like getting dressed without assistance and cooking with others. Drawing pictures or writing letters to loved ones are two ways that young children can develop their handwriting.


6. Don't forget self-care

It is advised for caregivers to schedule time for things that will restore your energy and motivation, such as talking to friends, doing a favourite hobby or exercising. Maintaining good eating and sleeping habits are also important. Additionally, caregivers must make every effort to maintain contact with their own support systems, including networks of parents and caregivers who are also caring for children with autism (Albaum et al, 2021).


References

Degli Espinosa, F., Metko, A., Raimondi, M., Impenna, M., & Scognamiglio, E. (2020). A model of support for families of children with autism living in the COVID-19 lockdown: Lessons from Italy. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 13(3), 550-558.


Lee, V., Albaum, C., Tablon Modica, P., Ahmad, F., Gorter, J. W., Khanlou, N., ... & Weiss, J. A. (2021). The impact of COVID‐19 on the mental health and wellbeing of caregivers of autistic children and youth: A scoping review. Autism Research, 14(12), 2477-2494.


Panda, P. K., Gupta, J., Chowdhury, S. R., Kumar, R., Meena, A. K., Madaan, P., ... & Gulati, S. (2021). Psychological and behavioral impact of lockdown and quarantine measures for COVID-19 pandemic on children, adolescents and caregivers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of tropical pediatrics, 67(1), fmaa122.


Hurwitz, S., Garman-McClaine, B., & Carlock, K. (2022). Special education for students with autism during the COVID-19 pandemic:“Each day brings new challenges”. Autism, 26(4), 889-899.


Cassidy, S. A., Nicolaidis, C., Davies, B., Rosa, S. D. R., Eisenman, D., Giwa Onaiwu, M., ... & Waisman, T. C. (2020). An expert discussion on autism in the COVID-19 pandemic. Autism in Adulthood, 2(2), 106-117.


Kutscher, M. L. (2016). Digital kids: How to balance screen time, and why it matters. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


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