For many, the current pandemic has been a little over a year of change and making new adjustments. While the state of the world means more family time, there are a few families who may not be properly equipped to deal with these situations. One such demographic is families with autistic children, who often receive special care while at school.

From learning how to interact with others to building independence, children with autism can benefit plenty from specialized care. During these times, many parents are now wondering how they can best care for and help their autistic children while stuck at home.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that affects how an individual is able to interact and communicate with others. This disorder is characterized by various symptoms, including speech impairment, repetitive behaviors, and challenges in social interactions. 

This condition currently affects less than 2% of the United States children’s population and over 2% of adults. Autism red flags usually show within 2 years of age or younger. These symptoms may include not being responsive to his/her name, no “babbling,” unusual tones, and trouble with combining actions.

Depending on the degree of the disorder, children with autism typically undergo therapy in the form of behavior-oriented speech, occupational, physical, or nutritional therapy. Together, these sessions can help both parents and their children understand the disorder and work towards living with the symptoms. For children, play-based therapy is often recommended because it engages the child while teaching vital life skills.

During the pandemic, it can be difficult to access these resources, especially with restrictions in place. As a parent of a child with autism, you might wonder what the best methods are to provide optimal care for your child without hindering his/her learning process. Here are a few things you can do:

  • 1. Explain the pandemic in simple terms
  • 2. Help your child form new social connections
  • 3. Explore virtual therapy options
  • 4. Create a routine
  • 5. Monitor your child’s behavior and mental health

1. Explaining the Pandemic

Children are often aware of things we might not think they would understand. A child with autism is more likely to ponder over these thoughts more intensely than other children. If your child is currently unaware of what the pandemic means for him/her, it is best to sit down and explain the situation in simple terms. An easy way to do so is by using drawings, videos, graphics, or even a story about COVID-19.

Children with autism typically take longer to understand topics of this matter without being frightened. To ease your child into this conversation, begin with something he/she enjoys heavily. 

If this is screen time, you may talk about how the pandemic means that he/she will be able to have more time on devices. These conversations will also be the best time to implement proper behaviors, such as handwashing and using hand sanitizers. Again, visuals are your best tools for helping your child understand what is happening in the world today. 

2. Forming New Connections

Although your child may have difficulties forming meaningful connections with other children, this does not mean that he/she is coping well with the loss of in-person interactions. For children with autism, communicating with other children face-to-face provides learning moments and a chance for them to develop interpersonal skills. To help your child cope with the lack of in-person interactions, consider seeking out ways to help your child connect virtually.

Most children require a support network of other children and caring adults. While a child’s parents may comprise a large portion of this network, it is important to form connections with other adults, such as a teacher, therapist, or family friend. 

During these times, forming those connections is more important than ever to aid in your child’s development. Some ways to do this include chatting over a video call, allowing your child to send text messages to his/her friends, or having a socially distanced meeting with another person. 

3. Virtual Therapy

During the pandemic, there are plenty of resources to aid the public while practicing social distancing precautions. Although it may be ill-advised to visit a therapist, many offices have implemented telehealth into their services. 

Telehealth is simply a method of receiving medical services from the comfort of your home. For therapy, this means that you can schedule an appointment with your therapist and enter a video call with him/her from home.

When scheduling an appointment, it is best to keep in mind that they may be limited due to an increase in patients requiring these services. If these services are unavailable to you, simply reach out to your therapist via email or phone call. Your therapist may be able to provide you with a training model to help your child cope with the pandemic and reduce your stress.

4. Setting a Routine

Your child may be full of energy and not know how to properly channel it while at home. This may result in procrastination and a lack of motivation to perform necessary tasks. One way around this is by setting a routine that allows a child to know exactly what to expect each day. If you already set a routine prior to the pandemic, it is best to maintain that routine as much as possible.

To better help your child understand the routine, consider creating a visual schedule or the day’s tasks. This will help your child transition between tasks easily and develop a sense of responsibility. Eventually, this routine will stick and your child will be able to go about it without instructions.

5. Monitoring Your Child

Children with autism are generally more expressive physically than verbally. As a result, your child may have trouble expressing his/her fears, worries, and emotions to you. The mental state of an autistic child is typically revealed through his/her actions. For instance, tantrums, refusals to perform certain actions, and repeated bad behavior can all highlight an underlying issue.

When monitoring your child’s behavior, be sure to provide your child with helpful coping strategies, such as counting slowly when he/she is feeling irritated. In the case that bad behavior becomes consistent, it may be best to schedule a visit with your therapist. Remember that the pandemic is not easy for anyone and while you may be placed under a lot of stress, the situation is having a worse effect on your child.