Schedules for parents and children have significantly changed. Children are being asked to learn virtually and complete worksheets at the kitchen table, while parents are either working from home or scrambling to find childcare. The stress is real and we are all feeling a bit overwhelmed (our kids included)! It is so easy to revert back to old habits. Read on for ideas on how to help your child with Autism navigate through the changes and uncertainties of the COVID-19 Lockdown.
Keep it structured!
It’s easy to let your children engage in lots of preferred activities throughout the day and not stick to their daily routine, but this will likely backfire by the end of the day. Keep a structured routine. Wake up, eat breakfast, and get dressed for the day. Continue to practice good hygiene with your children (take a shower, brush your teeth, and brush your hair everyday)! Use a visual or written schedule and include your child in selecting activities for the day. Spend some time outside, take the dog for a walk, do a sensory activity (we suggest playing with shaving cream on a clean table top or dumping some rice or pasta into a small bin/box and exploring), or make a yummy treat in the kitchen. Intersperse those fun activities with some educational activities that are age-appropriate for your child. Know yours and your child’s limits for activities. Set yourself up for success!
Stick to your behavior plans!
If you have or have had behavioral health services in the past, you might have an active behavior plan. Stick to it! Keeping things as consistent as possible is key for helping to ease anxiety and increase expectations during uncharted times. If you’re using a sticker chart for expected behaviors or have a set schedule for when your child earns reinforcement, keep using those things. It will help keep things as “normal” as possible for your child, and will also ease your own stress level since you will know how to manage things as they arise.
So often, we only direct attention to our children when they’re doing something they’re not supposed to do. Notice your child being “good.” Increase the type of reinforcement your child likes during this especially challenging time. Extra hugs and high fives, tickles or singing silly songs, random treats (small pieces of candy or chips), or a simple “I love how nice you’re playing with your brother!” can go a long way and help keep children on the “right track” behaviorally. Give specific verbal praise at the same time that you give additional reinforcement. For example, when giving a high five say “I love how quietly you’re playing with your blocks!” Give eye contact and be genuine.
Stay calm and model calm behaviors for your child. Knowing that Mom or Dad is anxious or stressed may increase anxiety and stress in your child. Remember to practice your own self-care during this time. Model that for your child. Do yoga together. Take a walk. Cook, read a book, or play a family board game. Exercise, paint your nails, call a friend. Listen to music. Have a dance party. Excuse yourself to your room if you’re feeling overwhelmed…and allow your child to do the same.
Use your natural supports
Lean on your natural supports. Your partner, your friends, siblings, or parents. Your neighbors (but don’t forget social distancing!) and your support groups. Technology is your friend, use it to connect with your supports even when you can’t be in the same room together. Set up a virtual support group using google hangouts, maintain on-going communication in a group chat, make sure you’re reaching out whenever you need to, and doing the same for others if you have the ability. We’re all in this together.
In the end, don’t be too hard on yourself. Stick to the plan and what you know works for your child and your family. Know that this is temporary, yet necessary. Allow yourself to make mistakes and forgive yourself for it. And do the same for your child.
About the author: Melissa Bowen is a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst and the Director of ABA Services at Child Guidance Resource Centers. She specializes in working with pre- and elementary- school-aged children utilizing Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions (NDBI) to improve communication and play skills in children with Autism and is passionate about creating systemic change for families and children with unique needs.