The rising spread of Covid-19 is causing much uneasiness across the globe. For special needs parents, this is yet another worry added to the multitude of things already on our minds. And with the Movement Control Order (MCO) in place, many of us are left in despair on what to do with our children with autism.
Firstly, remember you are not alone.
As a parent to a 4-year old with autism, I too struggle with keeping my extremely energised son cheerful, occupied and most importantly, tired out enough so he can sleep through the night. However, the most daunting of all is handling tantrums and meltdowns which if often quite draining for any parent.
We all dread these moments. If you find yourself having to deal with this situation, try out these tips from fellow parents:
1. Check your reaction to the tantrum or meltdown
Depending on each individual, triggers for tantrums or meltdowns will vary. Sometimes it is just button-pushing (read more about it here.) Having an adverse reaction to a tantrum could, in fact, prolong it. Go for a positive response or try talking to them in a calm voice.
2. Give them an alternative to what they want (if that is causing the meltdown)
Each individual has different preferences, so it is always best to occupy them with things they enjoy. If they are restless and want to go out, perhaps divert them to an activity on the porch. If you do not have a porch, perhaps set up different rooms with different games or activities they like. You could also try setting up water play activities inside or outside your house to help them calm themselves.
There are also some useful tips on differentiating between a tantrum and meltdown; as well as various methods of dealing with them here.
Create simple games or activities that are purposeful
Keeping our children occupied could also help reduce the possibility of tantrums and meltdowns. At the same time, we would like to keep them on track with purposeful activities that they probably do at school or in therapy. With the hope of fellow parents to children on the spectrum, I have compiled a list of activities that can be easily done at home:
1. Wheelbarrow, bear walk, crawling on the floor or through a ‘tunnel’
Part of Occupational Therapy (OT) which helps with wrist strength for better pencil grip.
2. Throwing a ball at the wall, bounce it back for them to catch
An unstructured play activity that helps with their cognitive function.
3. Dance and movement activity or involving them in your daily exercise regime
Helps with their imitation skills, something that most children on the spectrum struggle with. Additionally, this also works with teenagers and adults to get them up and about.
4. Scribbling, colouring and puzzles
There are plenty of free worksheets available online that you could print out. Blank art blocks would also work well.
5. Good ol’ hide-and-seek or catching
This helps them with their interactive attention span with another person. It is also fun for you and your child!
6. Finger puppets or hand puppets
Release your inner child with funny voices. It also helps with interactive attention span and sustaining eye contact. If you do not have any puppets handy, get creative by using socks instead.
7. Play dough/finger painting activity
Those who have additional sensory needs will benefit from the play dough. If you don’t have play dough at home, you could easily make some. Alternatively, painting activities also help with fine motor skills.
8. Sorting activities
Sorting clothes packs by colour or sorting out blocks by colour. For older children, perhaps sorting through the laundry and identifying their own clothes. This is good for their fine motor skills and cognitive abilities.
There are many more things one can do at home with what we have around us. Get creative, think out of the box. Perhaps use this time to encourage more independence under your watchful eye. Let them feed themselves or bathe themselves. In fact, it is always best to take the lead from our children. Let them guide us on what they want to do. Involving them in what we do is also a fun activity for them. If we are cooking in the kitchen, let them play with their own cooking set by us or when the adults sit down to a board-game, let them do table activities like colouring or scribbling.
For those with older kids
Talking to our special children is a powerful tool that we sometimes overlook (me included). Kate Wilde, in her book Autistic Logistics dedicates a whole chapter to this. Try explaining to your child calmly and in simple language about coronavirus and the need for social distancing. Even if you must repeat yourself several times, they will eventually understand.
Social stories are an excellent method of explaining about what’s currently happening. The Autism Educator, has put together a Social Story to explain about Covid-19, frequent hand washing or sanitising and staying home from school. While social distancing may be harder to explain, social stories on this could help too.
More advice from professionals
The above are tried and tested tips from my personal experiences and those from fellow parents. Many professionals are also helping parents by posting some suggested activities on their social media or through personal blogs:
2. Aurora Autism is a blog written by parents who have a child on the spectrum. Recently, they wrote about simple activities that can be done at home during the MCO.
3. The Autism Treatment Centre of America (ATCA), home of the SonRise Program, has a blog that provides good insights on various aspects of autism, tips for dealing with various issues and how to connect better with your child.
4. Assoc. Prof. Dr Hasnah Toran, programme director at Pusat Genius Kurnia provided some tips for the MCO period such as Papa Pipi videos and story telling sessions on Covid-19. Read more about it here.