We need to talk to our children on the autistic spectrum. The ongoing crisis of Covid-19 has many of us extremely worried, given what we have seen on the news about what is happening across these islands and the unfolding picture across Europe.
However, the confusion we experience can multiplied several fold for children on the autistic spectrum where the confusion, disruption in routine and school closures and can be distressing.
For parents and carers they will know where their child is on the autistic spectrum range, and what information they can absorb.
I have a daughter myself on the autistic spectrum so I understand just how distressing of a time this is for parents.
We are bombarded on the news and online with this unfolding crisis. But we mustn’t let it overwhelm our children. It is crucial that we take the time to understand it ourselves and communicate appropriately.
For many people a lot will depend on how the information is conveyed to their children and loved ones.
It will be the case that they have questions and we must not try and sugar coat what is a serious matter, especially as it may affect relatives that your child has an attachment to.
The first thing you need to remember is you are not alone in dealing with this. Other parents and carers are considering how to cope and have the same worries that you may have.
If you have a friends network reach out to it through your phone, the internet or social media. There is a lot of comfort to hear ‘I know what you mean’ from another parent.
The exchange of tips and ideas are vital, even just to have someone to speak to that understands.
There are many great resources out there that can help. Mencap has a downloadable easy read guide: https://www.mencap.org.uk/advice-and-support/health/coronavirus.
The National Autistic Society also has a dedicated page that is updated regularly: https://www.autism.org.uk/services/nas-schools/vanguard/news/2020/march/coronavirus-(covid-19)-advice.aspx
These and other resources can help guide you in discussing the issues with your child. However, the right here and now is when we have to confront the disruption.
The disruption to routine must be explained. Why they cannot visit their grandparents, why they cannot go to school, and so on must be explained frequently and with cool, simple understood terms.
At this time it’s really important for parents to avoid situations that will increase stress in their homes.
We all want to know the latest information as it emerges, but the round the clock media coverage can be overwhelming for adults let alone for children with autism. You need to limit their exposure to it, as well as what you watch. When you watch or listen to the news be prepared to explain, discuss, chat or ease worries.
It might be an idea to check online the latest updates from the likes of BBC News and give yourself some thinking time.
Comfort is not always easy to give. We all know as parents and carers that there are things that your child reaches out for.
Sitting in their favourite chair, wearing one item of clothing that is special, a toy they love, or their pet need to be on hand when stress triggers a response.
For many parents they will know that distraction techniques will work best for their children on the autistic spectrum, but the emphasis on regular hand-washing could be an issue.
We all want to keep everyone in the household safe but trying to explain to a child on the autistic spectrum the importance of regular washing can be challenging. Try and work out what will work best. The advice of singing for 20 seconds may be of help, but even more might be the videos online that explain it such as the one where someone uses black ink to show how to wash hands is useful so that they understand how thorough it needs to be. Make a game of it, if possible. ‘Let’s kill the invisible germs’ or such like can make it fun.
When it comes to issues such as coughing and sneezing relaying the importance of these issues may be tricky. Remember the simple advice: Catch it, Bin It, Kill it and repeat over and over again. One area that might be a real issue is when your partner returns from work if they are a key worker.
The advice, rightly so at this time, is that they should change their clothes, and wash or have a shower before contact with any member of the family. If games work for your child, get them to time how long it is before they get to see their mummy or daddy after they get home. For some children they can see how much time it takes each day and if mummy or daddy can be quicker.
It is important to consider however, with the spread of Covid-19 there may come a time when your child needs medical support.
The thought of your child having to go into hospital, without support is frankly terrifying. Remember that this is unlikely, and that the vast majority of children experience mild symptoms. If you have to contact your GP or out of-hours service, make sure that you explain your child’s circumstances.
Above all, we need to stay calm. If we as parents can keep calm, discuss everything in a way that you know will be absorbed and do not emphasise it this will be reflected in your child.
Of course there can be challenges in visualising the issues for younger children. There is a great resource on www.littlepuddin.ie with pictures and simple terms that can be downloaded and might be useful to print out and have at hand.
Looking after your own mental health and taking care of yourself is more important now than ever before.
This is a troubling time for kids on the autistic spectrum. We are worried and concerned about our child and family circle. We will all be doing our best, but we should know that this will pass in time.
And, remember that our child is the gift that we never expected, with a character that sets them apart and deserving every second of our love.
Look after yourself, look after your family and communicate as much as possible and as frequently as possible for each other.
If you’re having trouble settling your child or young person with autism during this crisis think about some of the ways you can improve or offer calm in their life. Ear defenders could help to give them the space and quiet they need within the home away from the constant movement and hustle and bustle. Or certain items of clothing such as extra tracksuits can help them feel more comfortable in their space. Alternatively using books or a Worry Monster to discuss how their feeling, coping and managing the stress around them can be a welcome distraction technique.