The 2nd of April is world autism day. The aim of this day is to raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder on society. The theme for 2020 is to make the public aware of the hurdles that people with autism and others living with autism face every day.
The American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention noted in 2018 that 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder ( https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html). The numbers are rising as more people are diagnosed across the world.
People on the spectrum communicate and interact with others in ways that are different to most other people (https://africacheck.org/factsheets/factsheet-frequently-asked-questions-about-autism-in-south-africa/). As result, they may need particular kinds of help in their daily lives.
Children on the spectrum provide challenges to their families on a normal day. In this time of lockdown in dealing with a virus, families may find it more difficult to deal with their children. There will be changes in routine and the person with autism will be challenged on a sensory level with the increased hand washing. Most important is that the general anxiety and uncertainness that we are all experiencing will have a big impact on people with autism. Here are a few tips for psychologists to guide families and caregivers on how to support themselves and their relatives with autism during this very difficult time. These tips are also useful for other families with children with disabilities such as ADHD or specific learning difficulties.
- Download Carol Gray’s social story to help you explain about the virus. Another source is Mencap’s EasyRead information. Both available on https://www.autism.org.uk/services/helplines/coronavirus.aspx
- Children may struggle managing their emotions which makes it difficult to think logically how to cope with anxiety provoking situations https://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/managing-feelings/stress-anxiety/child-anxious-coronavirus. It is therefore important to validate their feelings and respond with empathy. To say everything will be ok is not the best way of managing anxiety. It is also important to keep your own anxiety in check and focus on the facts. Dealing with the situation calmly may reduce anxiety. Help children to differentiate between what is happening currently and the worry about what could happen. Give honest accurate information at their level. LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN.
- One of the most important tips is to establish routine. A mother of a child with autism gave lovely guidance in how to develop a daily visual schedule an article in the Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/03/17/parenting-autistic-kids-coronavirus/.
- Be available as a psychologist to support families. Just listening to their experiences may support families to manage the situation better.
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
- Africa check. Retrieved from https://africacheck.org/factsheets/factsheet-frequently-asked-questions-about-autism-in-south-africa/
- National autistic society. Retrieved from https://www.autism.org.uk/services/helplines/coronavirus.aspx
- Understood.org. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/managing-feelings/stress-anxiety/child-anxious-coronavirus
- Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/03/17/parenting-autistic-kids-coronavirus/.
Dr Helen Dubar-Krige