Parents of all autistic children will know – change is rarely easy for their little (and big) ones. But the last few weeks have bought a cataclysm of change unprecedented in our lifetime and it’s hard.
Every autistic child is different so I can’t predict how your child will react. I can’t even predict how my own will react. But I know it will be hard to process and it’s likely there will be delayed reaction. And while so much is out of our control, I’m going to share with you 9 things you CAN do to mitigate the impact of the lockdown for your autistic child.
MY daughter, like all her peers I’m sure, will be bored at home very quickly. But unlike most of her peers, she finds self-regulation of her emotions very difficult, and heightened stress with all the change means it’s going to have to spill out somewhere.
She was already at home but this week all her groups have been cancelled, and the whole family has been at home, taking up space, breathing her air, crowding her kitchen, disturbing her solitude. She doesn’t like it. It makes her anxious and very uncomfortable. And in the past, being this anxious has led to unhealthy ways of coping so we, like many other SEN parents around the country and indeed the world, are trying, unsuccessfully it must be said, to keep everything as normal as it can be.
But how can life be normal when your favoured way to self-regulate is to go to the supermarket (yes, we know!)? When you are hostage to OCD, with no treatment of it for two years, but suddenly everyone is telling you to wash your hands? When the professionals you rely on and have been part of your recovery are no longer available and the groups which brought you back into the world cease to run?
Well the answer is of course that it can’t. For any of us.
The world is topsy turvy and just not RIGHT at the moment. And it’s scary. If it’s scary for adults, imagine how scary it is for a child who relies on everything being just as it’s meant to be in order to have low anxiety. Things are very much NOT as they are meant to be. And while this continues, parents of autistic and other neurodiverse children are likely to see behaviours that reflect that anxiety. Behaviour is communication, and even if your child can’t necessarily articulate to you what’s wrong, they are telling you with their behaviour.
So how can we help?
9 Ways To Ease Lockdown For Your Autistic Child
#1 Communicate The Facts
Be honest about what’s going on (without going into too much detail, depending on the age of your child). Simple facts can be processed without too much emotional baggage going with them. You will know the best way to do this for your child. Bear in mind teens can find out anything and may see some scary things on social media, so it’s better to come clean (pun intended).
#2 Get That Routine Going Quickly
Quickly establish a new routine, and be clear that it’s important there are no sudden changes as much as possible. How varied your routine is will depend on the needs of your autistic child and their siblings. We have a comprehensive resource list here: https://teencalm.com/home-schooling-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/
#3 Try to Keep As Much As Possible The Same
It’s likely your autistic child is made anxious by change. Keep as much constant as possible. Although it may not seem important that a particular drink is drunk at a certain time, there is little enough stability to hold on to at the moment.
#4 Use More Than Words
Neurodiverse children are likely to be visual learners, and possibly have issues with short term memory, so make a visual timetable, tailored to your child as detailed or illustrated as they like it. Stick to this timetable every day.
#5 Screentime is Downtime Now
Relax your usual screen time rules, especially if this is one of your autistic child’s means of self-soothing. After all, we bet your social media usage has gone up too?
#6 Use Social Stories
Social stories are visual short stories with teach a lesson about a specific social situation. They can be a great way to help autistic children understand new social situations, as long as they are done properly. Here’s a good resource to learn about them: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/what-is-it/ Create a social story to help your child process all of this change (there are some examples for COVID-19 particularly in our home education resources).
#7 Make Sure They Understand the Importance of Washing Hands
Many autistic children are demand-avoidant, and just telling them to wash their hands for 20 seconds is not going to work. They need to understand why and how, and one of the videos circulating on social media where someone uses a coloured soap or substance to show all the parts of the hand which are usually missed is a perfect example.
Alternatively show them handwashing while singing Mr Brightside!
#8 Help Them Understand Why We Can’t Go Out
The Teen Calm household has two autistic teens. One of them would live like a hermit most of the time if he could. He gets his socialising from online gaming and he’s (mostly) happy with that. For him, not going to school is a pleasure and being isolated at home is a habitual choice.
For the other, going out is part of her self-regulation. Therefore keeping her in is already proving difficult and is likely to become a lot more so. Despite the fact that this is all out of our hands, she needs to feel listened to when she moans about it. Visual animations about social distancing have helped – we recommend you make all explanations as visual as possible. And keep some distraction projects up your sleeve for further down the line.
#9 Cultivate Sainthood
As hard as it is, your children need you to be even more patient than normal!
The world may seem as if it has gone slightly bonkers, but what our children are going to remember of this time is not news reports or empty shelves in the supermarket but their time at home with us. Let’s make it memorable for the right reasons.