Autism, Coronavirus & Quarantine - How to manage the daily routine
For children with Autism, the current COVID-19 quarantine measures are a drastic change from their daily routine which can lead to stress and anxiety. Instead of approaching this situation with apprehension, instead consider that this strange time we are going through could be an opportunity to get closer to the thoughts and feelings of your autistic child.
Our advice at The Parent Infant Centre is to create a new and consistent routine for your autistic child at home. This routine should mimic a combination of current school and home routines. Don’t get discouraged if at the beginning your child doesn’t want to follow your direction, you are only trying to guide him/her through this unprecedented period of which neither of you is prepared. Instead try keep an open mind, experiment and pursue your ideas gently and persistently. Your child has to feel secure in the new regime!
Here are some key points you can use to help create a schedule during the COVID-19 quarantine with your autistic child:
MORNING ROUTINE: Wake up time should be slightly later than usual, if possible. Allowing your child with Autism to get their much-needed sleep will assist with recovery from any illness. It will also help balance their emotions as lack of sleep can cause additional emotional disturbances.
If your child received a school breakfast, try to provide the same choices that the school routinely offers. If your child eats breakfast at home, stick to your routine food choices. Minimal changes to foods are ideal.
Hygiene routines need to remain consistent including teeth brushing, hair brushing, showers, dressing, making the bed etc.
DAILY SCHEDULE: Come up with a schedule that works for your child with themed activity times. These include art, reading, science, maths, and free play.
EXCERCISE: While you are unable to take your child to the playground for example, there are plenty of other exercises you can do at home. If you are lucky enough to have a garden or yard then having fresh air can let your child run off some of that built up energy.
If you are stuck indoors with your autistic child during this period of isolation, there is still plenty you can do. A fun round of hide and seek will keep them moving. Youtube also offers a wealth of free yoga and indoor exercise videos for kids.
SOCIAL INTERATION: While we don’t want to encourage a digital addiction in our children, social interaction is critical. While social distancing is in practice, Facetime or Skype a friend, it can do wonders for your child with Autism during Coronavirus quarantine. Just make sure to monitor your child while using digital devices, and discuss internet safety with your child.
If video calls aren’t an option, a traditional phone call will work as well. It is important that access is restricted for no more than 20 minutes, and not offered as a means of entertainment instead of organic activities. Everyday chores for example, when put forward in a fun way allow interaction with your child. Putting clothes into the washing machine, or taking them out and into the tumble dryer, or hanging them on a washing line can be fun if you make a game out of it.
FREE TIME: Your child with Autism needs time to just be a child during this COVID-19 quarantine. Make sure to schedule time in their day to do their preferred activities. If during this period you see your child is flapping their arms, spinning around, or performing any other stereotypic movements with their face, arms or legs for example then talk to them. Your child may be feeling abandoned or filled with anxiety and doesn’t know what to do to comfort themself. You may be able to guide them through these feelings by trying to think together what activities they might prefer to do.
FAMILY TIME: While family time doesn’t traditionally happen during the school day, social interactions are a part of schooling. Spending time together can help your child practice their social skills and offer family bonding time. Watching movies together, playing board games, reading, baking and crafting are all great family bonding activities
LUNCH TIME: If possible, do try to keep lunchtime options the same as when the child is at school. One way you can change up the routine for your child with Autism during the Coronavirus quarantine is by having them help prepare their meals. Spreading butter, peanut butter or cream cheese, for example, on a piece of bread is very good practice to promote motor skills
DINNER TIME: During isolation, one of the best ways to make sure you have enough food and a schedule set up is to meal plan. One problem that may come up with preparing meals is access to specific foods. During Coronavirus quarantine, your child with Autism will still want their preferred food, however now is a great opportunity to make your child try experiment with other foods that he or she is not used to because they are not available! If you are able to get your groceries delivered then do use this facility that is being offered by all of the major supermarket groups and also many local independents. As you spend more time with your child you can slowly modify rigid beliefs which may have stemmed from seeking comfort from familiarity due to anxiety associated with being separated from their mother. If the child is spending more time with mum they shouldn’t need to continue sticking to rituals, behaviours and comforting methods to calm themselves down.
BED TIME ROUTINE: Keeping the same bedtime routine is vital in managing your child’s emotions. Make sure that their hygiene routine remains the same. While your child may not get as dirty as usual, a bath or shower can be a calming experience for many.
Here at The Parent Infant Centre we recognise the importance of offering emotional support during this time of isolation. We offer online consultations and psychotherapy services for children and families and can help offer advice in building a daily schedule that works for you. To book a consultation or to discuss online therapy, please get in touch.