Families are experiencing unique difficulties in quarantine. Many parents are learning how to teach their children at home for the first time, and may be coping with grief from cancelled graduation ceremonies and other important end-of-year milestones. It can be very difficult to explain what’s happening to our children when we aren’t truly sure ourselves what the future will look like or how to comfort them as they mourn the loss of their normal life. This is especially difficult when your child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Child on the spectrum struggle to adapt to change, and a huge part of thriving with autism is sticking to a routine. With their usual spots closed for social distancing and the schedule naturally disrupted as a result, many kids with ASD are struggling right now. Thankfully, there are ways to make the transition a bit easier, which we have compiled below.
Don’t Treat Them Differently
People with autism have difficulty verbally expressing their feelings, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have them. When you’re on the spectrum, you want to be treated the same as your neurotypical peers, but often, it’s assumed that they won’t understand.
Focus less on your child’s neurodiversity and more on their age. If they’re eight, speak to them the way you would speak to any other eight year old. If they’re a teenager, trust them to be able to be more mature than that. They have been hearing things about the virus too, and will likely have questions. Make sure to address them proactively and don’t talk about them like they aren’t there. Keep the lines of communication open in case other questions come up as they learn more.
Children with autism often struggle with anxiety. Not being able to control their environment may severely overwhelm your child. If this is the case, it may help your child to look to what they can control. Your child may not be able to wear a face mask due to sensory issues, but they can be empowered around lowering their risk of contracting coronavirus. For example, focusing on washing your hands and staying home are two of the best ways to prevent COVID-19 right now.
You can also work together to create a daily schedule under these new circumstances. In addition, consider making a space that they can have control of in the home where they can do their schoolwork in comfort. When they feel overwhelmed and anxious, look to the tools you already use; for example, a weighted blanket, breathing exercises, or running in place.
Some Common Questions
“What happens if we get it?”
Your child may be very concerned about what would happen if they or someone in your family contracted COVID-19. It’s important to be honest and not say anything like, “We won’t get sick!” Explain that for the majority of people who get it, it’s mild enough to treat at home, and there are a lot of doctors who can help. Depending on your child’s age, this may be a good opportunity to explain to them how germs work. For many children on the spectrum, it’s not easy to understand things that are not visible to the naked eye, so explain that you need a microscope to see this virus. Remind them of when they last got a cold and compare it to that.
Keep in mind that for some kids, this will be enough of an explanation and they will have no further questions. For others, they will have a lot of questions, and you may need to answer them one question at a time. People with autism often need some time to process things before they can ask further questions for clarification, so keep the communication open.
“Why can’t we go to _____?”
People on the spectrum rely on what they know to ground them. They may be very attached to familiar places as part of their routine, whether they love their school or you have a restaurant you frequent. Your child may struggle to understand why they can’t go to their favorite places.
If this is the case, make sure to validate their feelings and emphasize that the lockdown is temporary. You may have to remind them at different times, and always make a point to let them know that you will be able to go back to those places with time.
At the end of the day, you know your child best. This might be a good opportunity to teach them something new, like how to cook, so that you make the most out of this strange time. For other children, this will be far too much stimulation and would simply be too overwhelming, so the focus should be on creating a sense of stability.
Whatever works for you, we’re here to help support you. If you need child counseling in Palatine, we would be happy to help with our online services. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.