The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused mass disruption and challenges.
Things that we once took for granted are challenging, and those things that were once challenging are now overwhelming. Combining COVID and Autism can lead to additional stressors for all parties. Most children with autism thrive on consistency and routines, which has all but deteriorated for many families across the country. While there is no magic or resource which can eliminate these impacts, there are a few things that can be done to support our routine-thriving children.
First and foremost, we need to create a ‘new routine.’ We are all tired of hearing “new-normal” and “pivot.” These terms cannot provide justice to the emotional strain, the daily pull, and the anxiety filling our communities. However, the words are widely used for a reason: we must adapt and develop a coping mechanism for this novel situation. For our children with autism, this means embedding clear expectations and consistent routines throughout the aspects of their lives over which we have control.
This is about sur-thrival (yep, we make up words here). We want you to have enough planned consistency that you can survive the challenging moments and help your child thrive in the calm moments.
Sur-thrival Part 1: CREATING CONSISTENCY:
Have the ‘decision-makers’ of the house [ie. the parent(s), grandparent(s), etc] get together and WRITE-DOWN the house rules, expectations, and goals. Why are we pushing for you to write it down? Because this solidifies it for you. It clearly explains for you and any other co-adulting responsible party with whom you share your life. Writing it down means everyone can be on the same page.
House rules may be the most critical component for consistency. There are a few things to consider for quality house rules:
Be Specific: avoid subjective interpretations here. For example, does your child with autism understand what “be nice” means. If not, is that a skill that you can easily teach concretely? Perhaps a more objective rule would be “gentle hands and feet”- this is something that can be objectively taught and will be more likely to be interpreted by the adults similarly.
Be positive: This is about teaching what IS okay versus what ISN’T okay. Think of writing out the replacement behaviors rather than the behavior you are hoping to decrease. As an example, “no hitting” could be replaced with “gentle hands” or “gentle touches.”
Be together: Make sure that the decision-makers of the house are on the same page. Avoid setting rules that one parent or caregiver is unable (or unwilling) to follow through, especially when coping through COVID and Autism. House rules should be to build consistency in that setting with EVERYONE. When they are sometimes allowed to be broken, that consistency falls away.
Take the house rules a step further and discuss roles and responsibilities. Outlining this will allow you to see how much you have taken on and where you might be able to seek help.
Think about and answer questions such as:
If your child has challenges sleeping through the night, is the expectation that one parent always gets up to address the night waking? Will you take turns? Perhaps you are a single-parent household; can you enlist help the next day so you can grab a nap?
If it is a two-parent household with one working parent, consider how the parent who stays home with the child(ren) will get a break. Can the working parent provide an hour in the evening? For single-parent households- are there respite providers in your area? Or family, friends?
Self-care is important for any parent. During the Pandemic, parents are being asked to be a teacher, hairdresser, friend, therapist, etc. with minimal (if any) supports. Remember to find ways to get at least a few moments a day or week to breathe.
This is where you can prioritize. What REALLY needs to happen, what would you LIKE to accomplish, and what is okay to push off until more supports are available?
A common technique for writing goals is to use SMART goals:
Specific: Know what you (or your family member) will do and how
Measurable: Have a defined way to measure progress toward the goal
Attainable: Make sure you can visualize how you (or your family member) will get to the goal
Realistic: While having overarching/long term goals are great, break those down to smaller realistic-in-the-moment goals.
Time-bound: Have a timeline for the goal so it doesn’t fall victim to “someday.”
These are some suggestions to get you started for developing consistency. Truly, consistency is the single-most-important component toward sur-thrival. In the coming weeks, we will provide more tools and tips to help guide through COVID and Autism. There are more resources immediately available at Autism Speaks. Know that you are not alone. Please reach out for support by calling our offices, a local support agency for your area, or a family/friend!