Written by: Sam Cahill, Aquatic Occupational Therapist & Erika Gleeson, Senior Behaviour Specialist
Coronavirus or Covid-19 has created significant amounts of change and stress in many of our lives, even more so for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other abilities who have difficulty with change.
For many with ASD and other abilities, their daily routines are their lifelines, and these significant and sudden disruptions/changes to these are often overwhelming for individuals with ASD and other abilities, and hence, their families/care-givers.
This stress and anxiety can often manifest into Behaviours of Concern.
Additionally, for those with ASD who are sensory-seekers, it’s likely they may be feeling under stimulated and trying to seek out more sensory experiences than what their current home environment is providing. This results in a higher likelihood of wandering. Wandering may also be a result of individuals with ASD/other abilities trying to escape something in their environment or trying to seek out something in particular.
Keep in mind that many therapies or day programs are on hold, and so parents of those with ASD/other abilities are not only weaning the hats of teacher, parent, employee, but also therapist; showing the wide reaching impact on the all abilities community at large.
Many individuals with ASD and other abilities have comorbid conditions that result in them being more vulnerable to Coronavirus. This puts an additional layer of stress onto these families in these unsettling times.
Although we have no control over the current conditions, changes and closures that have been implemented to minimise the spread of Coronavirus, we do have some helpful tips to help you and your children get through these circumstances and to help minimise the distress experienced.
It is important that everyone feels supported during these particularly unnerving circumstances.
Children often tune into when their caregivers are stressed and ultimately feel a level of anxiety themselves. This is why it is so important to communicate with our children (both big and small) around the current circumstances, to prevent these stress levels increasing further.
We want to provide education around Coronavirus to those with ASD/other abilities at levels they are capable of understanding. It is important to allow them to ask questions and answer them honestly, with language that will not only educate but importantly decrease their anxiety.
It is also beneficial to limit the amount of news they are being exposed to, as these often focus on the negatives and can increase stress levels further.
Often it can be helpful to ask our children what they know or understand first, to help address specific concerns and get an insight into their current knowledge.
We are all feeling a combination of emotions, and will continue to do so throughout these unsettling times. Providing fun ways to express their emotions is helpful to decrease their stress levels. This can be done through craft, discussions, pretend play etc.
Some activities we recommend to help make the education process fun:
- Our FREE downloadable social story, click here.
- The pepper (germ) experiment video below.
- Singing the ABC or happy birthday song for 20 seconds while you wash your hands.
2. Prioritising self-care for those with ASD/other abilities and their caregivers.
When we talk about self-care, we are referring to any activity that we actively seek to help improve our mental, emotional, physical or spiritual health, ultimately improving our well-being.
During the current conditions it is even more crucial to ensure we are all actively participating in self-care routines to ensure we stay not just physically healthy, but emotionally healthy too.
When we as care givers feel calm, we are better able to model this to others, allowing a calmer home environment as a whole.
The activities that allow us to destress are going to vary for each individual so it’s important to schedule some time each day to find and implement these activities.
Some ideas of self-care routines/activities (beneficial for both children and caregivers):
- 30 minutes of exercise daily - This could be low intensity like a walk or yoga, or a more intense workout, all with the purpose of getting the mind and body moving.
- Practice sleep hygiene - A good night sleep is crucial to keep the mind and body working efficiently. Stick to a bedtime and a wake-up time to allow the body to get into a consistent sleep/wake cycle. Remember NO screens an hour before bedtime to allow our brains time to switch off and fall asleep.
- Find a new hobby - Get creative, follow your interests and see what you can come up with. Some ideas include gardening, painting, learning a new skill or some sensory play.
- Starting a journal - Not only is a journal a healthy way to express and document emotions in a health way, but also a sentimental item to document what it was like to live through Coronavirus.
- Eating well - Eating the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables (varies for ages), to ensure a well-balanced and functioning gut, can not only improve physical health but emotional health and overall well-being too.
- Giving ourselves a break - Being a caregiver, particularly of someone with other abilities can be a particularly demanding task. It is important to recognise when you need a time out and put in place some steps to allow this to happen. This will look different for each family, however some suggestions include; having parents organise a roster of who is in charge to give both some time off each day, helping create a ‘special’ box with games/toys/activities to keep them occupied independently etc.
- Listen to music or a podcast - To give our brains a chance to focus on something other than the Coronavirus or our current situations.
- Recognise and seek support where required - We understand that family’s needs change during these situations, it is important to reach out and seek support if you need it. We at Autism Swim are offering a range of supports via teletherapy to help everyone cope with the ever-changing circumstances. We have a behavioural specialist and occupational therapists that can provide parent coaching and support services as well as a range of other therapeutic interventions.
Click HERE to find out more.
3. Develop new routines
Many of us work best with routines, particularly those with Autism and other abilities. It is important to try and find a new ‘normal’ throughout this time and create a new routine as best we can. Although many of our typical routines have been disrupted, it is important to focus on the routines we can control and create new routines for the ones we can’t control. The routines we can control include the sleep/wake cycle, mealtimes, household chores and daily living activities e.g. brushing teeth and showering. It is important to maintain as much consistency as normal for these routines to minimise further disruption.
For the routines that are no longer ‘normal’ e.g. going to the park, school, shops, swimming lessons etc, we want to create a new ‘normal’. In trying to best support our children to develop a new school routine we may want to use a visual schedule. This can not only help them see what is happening throughout the day, but also help set clear expectations around when ‘school’ time is and when is ‘home’ time. As the behaviours and expectations are vastly different with school and home time, it is important to set the children up for success by reinforcing these differences early on.
Some other tips that may be helpful; Instead of going to the park after school you may set up a pretend ‘playground’ in your backyard to encourage outdoor activities. Instead of visiting friends and family on the weekend you touch base via video chat. Instead of going to swimming lessons today we will have a bath and blow bubbles and talk about what we would learn. Or working through the Water Safety colouring-in book.
4. Stay in touch
For many individuals with ASD and other abilities, communication and social engagement is something that can be challenging. It is important to keep up the socialisation during these isolating times.
Video calls can be done through a range of apps and trying to organise catch up with peers from school, family members, therapists etc so they don’t lose touch is important in fostering social engagements. By scheduling frequent socialisation experiences, it can help our children to continue to develop social skills, as well as foster a sense of connectedness, it will also ease the transition back to previous ways of life when we return. An example might be a weekend Lego date with a peer, where they both work on their Lego whilst on video chat, minimising the pressure for ‘conversation’, even though this is likely to happen organically
Staying in touch for family members and caregivers is also crucial. Many of us have developed strong support networks that allow us to debrief and work through challenging times. Staying in touch with these friends and family members through this difficult time is important to support our mental health and allow us to cope in challenging times.
Why not organise a teleconference with your Autism Swim Approved swimming instructor/aquatic Therapist? This is a great idea to ensure the rapport that has been built is maintained.
5. Remember this is temporary
Like everything in life, this too will pass. It definitely is a strange time in all of our lives, and we will get through this with the support of one another.
It is important we remember and reinforce to our children that this is only temporary and there will be a time where we can go back to the things and places we enjoy.
If you are in crisis, anxious or depressed and want to talk with someone, call:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Kids helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)