It’s difficult to know what advice to give when schools are shutting down and parents are faced with an unknown period of time without services. Here are a few ideas for how to approach each day with your child with autism. Our goal is not only to ease this transition (for your child and your entire family) but also to prepare for the upcoming transition when school resumes.
One note before we jump into suggestions: you should view these suggestions as just that – possible tips to help improve your day. Some of them may not be a great fit for your child or your family; others may spur additional ideas. These should not be viewed as additional requirements or be something that increases your stress.
- First and foremost, try to maintain the small routines as much as possible. For example, have your child still get up and get dressed, instead of making it a pajama day every day.
- Provide structure. A simple thing you can do for both yourself and your child is to create a schedule for each day. Included in this schedule can be basic routines (get up and eat breakfast,) and new ones (complete work in workbook, do a puzzle,) as well as fun things (choose a movie to watch, dance to music) A visual or written schedule will help everyone with structure during the day. Don’t forget to add in hand washing regularly as this is the best prevention for spreading the virus.
- Indicate changes on the calendar or schedule. Most children with autism prefer structure and routine, so setting this up day one will be helpful. Oftentimes, explaining to your child, in whatever way they best process information, that you will be home for many weeks may help them no longer wonder. Putting “home” on each day of a kitchen calendar, at least through your school district closing date may allow your child to visually see that school taking place for a period of time.
- Get fresh air. Whether you take a walk around the block or sit outside and count cars that drive by, being in social isolation does not mean being homebound. Getting some fresh air, while remaining only with family members can be helpful to everyone. Depending on your child’s interests, kicking a ball around, using your home swing set, taking a walk or biking can really enhance the day.
- Give yourself breaks. Whatever schedule you make should include some breaks for yourself as well. This might be allowing your child to watch a youtube for 15 minutes in the middle of the day so you can take a little breather. Scheduling it can be helpful for giving your child structure, but also letting yourself know when you get that break!
- Ask your service providers and teachers for any tips. They may have suggestions for how and when to use reinforcers during this time, or ways you can incorporate maintenance of skills throughout the day. These staff may be able to share websites that your child enjoys and uses in school such as Go Noodle, Epic, or other educational sites.
- Use familiar materials. If possible, access materials used in school that are familiar to your child that may help them stay engaged during times you have other tasks to complete. These might include file folders, task boxes or others. Many items can be printed from websites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers.
- Use technology to increase social time for both yourself and your kids. Set up virtual “playdates” with cousins, friends, etc. You might also consider taking a look at this list from Common Sense Media for multiplayer apps. These include games that can be played by people in the same room or in different locations.
- Get your child involved. The first step to this is giving your child choices throughout the day. You can also provide some new options. Perhaps there are things you’ve been wanting to do, such as teach your child how to make a couple of basic meals, and you can add these in now. You can also ask your child if they have ideas for things they might want to do during this time.
- Talk about COVID-19: You know your child best and if it is appropriate to talk about what coronavirus is or not. If this seems appropriate, the CDC posted some useful information on how to talk to your child about this. In addition, they created a child friendly video that may help your child understand the virus.
- Make hand washing fun: Since you will likely do this more often with your child, try to make it fun! Sing their favorite song while rubbing hands, use soaps that foam or have desired scents, and if appropriate, even play with soap in the kitchen sink, making bubbles or washing preferred toys. Playing with bubbles will increase handwashing post the activity too!
Finally, the Autism Research Institute is hosting some webinars for parents in how to deal with issues related to changes in schedules and routines due to Coronavirus. You can view their schedule here: https://www.autism.org/webinars-autism/
Our society is facing an unprecedented time and everyone is feeling unsure of what will happen next. It is important to rely on those who can support you, even if it is virtual. It sounds cliché, but relying on others to support us in these unknown times can really make a difference.
Written By Sam Blanco, Phd, LBA, BCBA and Cheryl Davis, PhD, LABA, BCBA-D
Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for sixteen years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges, and she is the Senior Clinical Strategist at Chorus Software Solutions
Cheryl has been in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis for over 25 years, working with clients with Autism Spectrum Disorders, developmental delays, and social emotional learners. She consults to parents, public and private schools, as well as supervises BCBA/BCaBA candidates. Cheryl believes in using progressive ABA techniques in her educational, behavioral and social programming for clients. She is an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges, owner of 7 Dimensions Consulting and co-owner of SupervisorABA.