By Naeema Sarfraz (Clinical Psychologist)We are all surrounded by fear of unknown and uncertainty during the current crisis with the Covid-19. As a Special needs psychologist, I am very concerned as to how children with autism must be adjusting to this new world order. Children with autism are very routine oriented, this world was already full of chaos and uncertainty for them. The current scenario of COVID-19 has restricted us all in our homes, we can make sense of and comprehend the current situation however, it’s very difficult for these children to understand this new change the world is going through.
These children have set routines and schedules, they like keeping to their routines as it helps with their stress/anxiety associated with any uncertainty or change. This uncertainty and chaos can make them display behaviors that are challenging for people who support them such as their family members. These Challenging behaviors may include screaming, hitting, spitting, rocking etc. To help them cope with this anxiety related to uncertainty, parents should prepare daily schedules, of a number of activities such as breakfast time, play time, Tv time, snack time, music time, lunch time, exercise time , nap time, computer games time, art time, dinner time, and bed time. To help with the schedule’s communication cards can be used, which are easily available online.
It can be a very interactive activity for the family, as under the current circumstances taking prints can be difficult, so you can instead draw them on white cards that children can cut, then you can all draw and color. Include your child with autism in this activity as they usually like art activities and it can be a good family time too. As we know these children face difficulty in socialization, this time can be utilized to engage them in some indoor activities that keep them busy too. Due to their difficult behaviors, it will be unfair to keep them segregated and less involved as it can increase their frustration and anger.
Children with autism do have certain sensory issues, if your child has any tactile or texture sensitivity don’t force them to wear masks or gloves as it will only make them more upset and anxious. Instead you can make sure that their hands are washed properly and regularly. To help with this, you can create a social story with their favorite character, so they know the importance of hand washing and cleanliness in these challenging times.
It is easy to get angry and frustrated as a parent or a caretaker of a child with Autism, but you need to keep in mind how their inner world works, before punishing them for their challenging/difficult behaviors. You can use this time to help their siblings or the other family members to understand and learn about the needs of your child. You can also try switching roles as parents, as it can be a daunting task for one parent to manage the child all the time. Majority children on the spectrum have communication issues so it will be useful to keep their communication cards or communication book in reach at all times, as most problem behaviors take place when the children are not understood, or they are unable to communicate. We can use the current crisis situation of the pandemic to make them part of our family system and own them rather than making them feel as a if they are unwanted or a burden for the family.