As much as it is good news that COVID-19 vaccines are now safe to be administered to children, getting jabbed by a needle can still be a daunting and traumatising experience for them. This is especially so for some children with special needs, such as those with autism. The process of getting vaccinated involves travelling to an unfamiliar location and going through a novel experience which can increase one’s stress reactions. Hence, leading up to their COVID-19 vaccination appointment, preparing your child mentally and physically can help ease the process of and provide a smoother experience for both your child as well as yourself as a parent or caregiver. With that said, the following are a couple of tips you can follow to kickstart the preparation process leading up to their scheduled appointment.
Role-playing and social stories/visual supports
Role-playing ahead of their vaccination appointment gives them some sense of comfort as it provides predictability for the events that are going to happen (Early Autism Project, 2022). Going through the motion and rehearsing the series of events that will play out on the actual day helps your child to understand the steps to getting vaccinated, allows them to familiarise themselves with the medical equipment they would expect to see, and how these medical equipment would be used. As important as it is to go through the vaccination procedure, it is also important to incorporate what happens after they get the jab, namely, the 30-minute monitoring period (Schisler, 2021). You may also incorporate activities your child could do to make time pass faster during the monitoring period. For instance, drawing or reading a book might be helpful depending on your child’s level of ability.
If you choose to opt for the use of social stories or visual supports over role-playing, you may consider using videos (preferable) or pictures.
Below are some tools that you may find helpful:
Social Story Video 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbtjQbeMlTE
Social Story Video 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-F82gfBPGc
Using a distraction
There are two schools of thought on the idea of using a distractor. It can be useful to divert their attention or block their view from the injection site to distract them from the discomfort or pain from the needle (Schisler, 2021; Early Autism Project, 2022). However, on the other hand, doing so may also induce higher levels of stress as they may experience shock from not knowing when to anticipate the discomfort. As you would know your child best, you may make a judgement call of which would work better for your child.
Prepare a strong reinforcer
This will help greatly in getting your child to develop a positive association with the vaccination process and reduce their stress and anxiety when it comes to going through the process again when the time comes for their additional doses to be administered in a couple of months. Some children may need frequent small reinforcement after each stage of the vaccination process with the biggest reinforcer being rewarded after they complete the entire process, so you should tailor it to your child’s needs.
Written by: Brenda
Aptus Treatment Centre. (2021, January 16). Social Story: Preparing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Strategies if you feel nervous about needles [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbtjQbeMlTE&t=251s
Early Autism Project. (2022, February 21). Preparing children with autism for vaccination. Early Autism Project Malaysia. https://www.autismmalaysia.com/preparing-children-with-autism-for-vaccination/
Schisler, E. (2021, February 18). How to prepare individuals with autism for the vaccine. Autism NJ. https://www.autismnj.org/article/how-to-prepare-individuals-with-autism-for-getting-the-vaccine/
UCUCEDD. (2021, February 20). COVID vaccine social story english w music [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-F82gfBPGc
Vella, P. (2020, May 13). Getting an injection social story 1. Autism Association of Western Australia. https://www.autism.org.au/our-services/fact-sheets-autism-2/healthcare/attachment/getting-an-injection-social-story-1/