How to Support Your Child with Autism Through the COVID-19 Lockdown

A woman helping her child. How to support your child during COVID-19 lockdown. (Picture: Unsplash)

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted lives across the globe. While everyone is feeling the stress of disrupted routines, these sudden and dramatic changes can be especially upsetting for children on the autism spectrum.

With families asked to only leave their homes for work, doctor visits, and grocery shopping during the lockdown, many parents are wondering how they can create a sense of normalcy for their child with autism.

COVID-19 Lockdown Tips for Families

With schools and childcare centers closed, parents must take steps to ensure their child’s educational and developmental needs are met at home. Before doing anything else, reach out to your child’s educators, therapists, and other developmental providers to discuss options for services and learn techniques for meeting your child’s needs at home. If your child can’t receive in-office or at-home services due to the coronavirus lockdown, ask about holding sessions virtually.

Teaching Your Child About COVID-19

Kids don’t need to know every detail of the coronavirus pandemic, but there are some things it’s important for children to understand. To avoid frightening children with autism, present information in a way that’s easy to process.

Social stories are a popular tool for presenting new information to children with autism, and The Autism Educator has put together a great social story about coronavirus for parents to use. Easterseals also has resources for explaining coronavirus to children, including social stories, a school closure toolkit, and age-appropriate hand-washing information for kids.

Home-Based Activities for the COVID-19 Crisis

The next challenge is creating positive routines at home for your child with autism. The more parents can maintain their child’s typical routines during the lockdown, the fewer challenges they’ll face at home.

That means children who attend school should have set learning hours at home. Your child’s teacher may have sent home workbooks or e-learning resources, but there are also great online options that parents can use for home-based learning. For example, HomeAdvisor has a ton of ideas for fun, hands-on math applications for children from kindergarten through high school. For kids who love science, try these four easy science experiments you can do at home.

Don’t forget recess! Staying active is important during the coronavirus crisis, and it’s also good for your child’s behavior. As Exercise Right explains, there’s evidence that exercise improves emotional regulation, attention, and social behavior in children with autism. Luckily, you can make your backyard a safe space for outdoor play with just a few changes. Then, use these tips to encourage your child with autism to get active.

Time for play is important too. MomJunction has 18 fun activities that you can do indoors or outdoors with items you already have around the house, while Stages Learning recommends ways to adapt popular childhood games for children on the autism spectrum. When you notice that your child is getting stressed, turn to therapeutic activities like “brain breaks,” pen and paper games, and sensory activities. If you don’t already have a sensory time-out area, this is the perfect time to make one. With everyone at home, it’s more important than ever that your child has a place of his or her own to decompress.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown everyone a curveball, but uncertainty in the world doesn’t have to lead to unrest at home. While sudden and unexpected changes can be stressful for children on the autism spectrum, there’s a lot that parents can do to create stability and reduce behavioral problems while their children are at home. Not only will these tips and activities help you explain the recent changes to your child with autism, but they’ll help your child feel supported and safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

Text: Jenny Wise