Strategies to help kids with autism cope with sudden change brought on by coronavirus

Posted at 11:46 AM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 16:33:03-04

The sudden change in normal life has been tough on all of us, but especially for kids with autism.

What makes this situation so tough is that parents didn't have time to prepare their child for the transition.

"Everything just happened so abruptly,” said psychotherapist Dr. Annette Nunez of Breakthrough Interventions.

That sudden change can cause behavior issues, stress and anxiety in kids, but there are things parents can do to help.

"We don’t have control over the world around us right now, but we do have control over our mindset and what’s going on in our homes,” Nunez said.

One of the best things parents can do is create a schedule for the entire week.

Nunez says you should not schedule an activity longer than 45 minutes and make sure to include lots of physical sensory breaks.

"Easy things you can do at home - wrapping your child around in a blanket like a burrito and then rolling them out. It provides sensory input for your child to help organize them and then also piling up couch cushions and having your child run across the room and having them crash into the couch cushions. You can do things like crab walking and wheelbarrow walking, things that are going to provide sensory input," Nunez said.

You should even schedule meal times and bathroom breaks, since that's something kids are used to in school. Nunez advises parents reach out to kids' teachers for help: ask for visuals they use, their typical schedule and any key words they use to help kids calm down or transition.

And try to stay positive.

"It's really important to keep a positive mind set because your kids are already sensing your stress and anxiety which causes them to behavior out and then it's this vicious cycle because parents become frustrate," Nunez explained. "So some tools you can use are parent prompts: you can write positive statements on a sticky tab or note cards and place them around the house. And it's things like, 'Breathe,' 'Take a break', 'You got this,' 'You're doing great,' 'Keep going.'"

One more way to help keep everyone going is with what she calls 'Fun Fridays.'

"We do it at our clinic and I have to tell you, it's been a hit. And we've been doing Fun Fridays for years now and the kids look forward to it," Nunez said.

It can mean you plan to watch movies together, your kid gets extra screen time, you do a fun activity outside or anything else you can both look forward to.