Living with Autism during COVID-19

July 22nd, 2020
Living with Autism during COVID-19


COVID-19 has challenged families with children living with autism in more ways than one. Families are home together, their supports have shifted, and they are experiencing sudden adjustments to their daily routine.

Social distancing guidelines are put in place to protect at-risk individuals and limit the spread of the coronavirus disease. Visual cues and concrete explanations of these guidelines may be appropriate to help people with autism further understand these sudden changes.

Like any transition preparation is essential.

Things to consider

Each child and young adult with autism comprehends and processes information differently. Does your child fully understand what social distancing means when you explain it? If not, here are some ways you might try delivering the message:

• Social Stories
• Videos
• Songs
• Books
• Pictures

Why it matters

Social distancing will keep your child safe as we navigate life until treatment options are available.

Wearing masks may be uncomfortable for your child, and it may take time to build up tactile senses. Gently remind them that you understand it's not comfortable and it's expected to take some time to get used to.

Any social story, resource, or example can be individualized by using real names of people.
"Usually, we love to hug Grandma Smith but since we love her and want to protect her, we want to keep her safe from any germs. We can draw pictures and wave to Grandma Smith from a far."

How to implement

Researching and understanding the rules and reasons behind them will better equip you for questions your child may have. Don’t be afraid to call an establishment to clarify their procedures before bringing your family. Some stores are limiting access through one entrance and utilizing Google Maps to visually show where someone enters the building. Printing the map and drawing the new barriers at the entrance would provide optimal support. Then, create a visual understanding of the new expectations to continuously review, in order to mitigate any misunderstandings.

Parents can create a visual example to explain their expectations to others as a way to self-advocate. When interacting with others (extended family, friends, service providers), find out their expectations in regards to social distancing. Compare their expectations to yours and if needed create a visual support for interacting with those specific people. Avoid using the phrase, “We are doing this for COVID-19,” and provide deeper understanding for why it matters for the health and safety of all involved.

For those who best understand through pictures, use a picture to display air particles and how a mask blocks them. For others, use a video. Find the best way to explain, using strategies that are individualized.

Like all transitions, youth with autism need time to receive and process. Previous "rules" are broken, and new "rules" have been established. This is often hard to digest because sometimes explaining the "why" means stating what one person may perceive as obvious and another individual does not.

With new regulations in place weekly, remind your child that coronavirus guidance changes frequently as we learn more about this new virus - ensure your child you will let them know if and when procedures change.



Kelly Elton, Teacher, New Horizons Academy
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