NEW JERSEY – As new concerns emerge due to the closure of schools for the Covid-19 pandemic, parents are finding more difficultly in juggling their routines by attempting to balance their occupation/livelihood while becoming part-time educators and full-time aids to their children- some of whom may have been working through diagnosed conditions.
For those parents with children who are considered on the spectrum and/or autistic, this experience is even more demanding of their time, energy and capabilities to handle this on their own- without professional assistance.
“Times are tough for everyone but can be particularly hard for people with autism and parents of children on the spectrum. Parents are serving as teacher, aide, behavioral therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist and many other roles crucial for their child’s progress and development,” said Donna S. Murray, PhD. Ms. Murray is the vice president of clinical programs and head of the Autism Treatment Network (ATN) at Autism Speaks. Donna serves as an adjunct associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital within the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Pediatrics.
She offered further insight, “people on the spectrum who live in group homes or full-time care facilities may be separated from their families, and adults living independently are coping with changes to their work environments and typical support systems. To help ease those feelings of isolation, it’s important to come together as a community and continue the kindness wherever we are.”
This healthcare crisis has for sure been a wake-up call in every aspect of daily life. In particular, the pandemic is affecting special needs families with autistic children in more ways than the already overwhelming stress that most other families are currently enduring. Murray added, “The combination of school closures, job cuts/uncertainty and changes to available behavioral supports and resources, along with the many other disruptions in daily routine, can make these times especially trying for individuals and families in the autism community.”
In addition, Murray states, “parents are adapting to managing their child learning from home as well as juggling their own job responsibilities. Coping with disrupted routines and increased anxiety can result in an increase in challenging behavior for some children creating additional challenges for parents.”
It is notably unyielding for these families with an autistic child to have the traditional routines that they have worked together to become accustom to disrupted. It’s a labor of love, but not the less extraordinary circumstances that parents and children must figure out in order to function with relative ease. “A lot of autistic individuals find comfort in the familiar, which adds order to each day. The difficulty of understanding why a routine is disrupted and how long it’s going to last creates a lot of unknowns.”
“Changes to daily routines can lead to increased anxiety and problem behaviors. Parents should start by creating a new routine for home. A printed schedule with words or images can be a concrete way to keep expectations consistent from day to day for their child,” Murray advised.
She offered a potential solution since Autism Speaks has a printable template on their COVID-19 resources page for parents to work off of. This template also includes built-in excess time so parents can adhere to the guidance which encourages an increased amount of physical activity. More recreational actions, but physical movement and exercises leads to positive mental well-being as well.
As to what parents can do during this time to help their children and ensure they meet certain developmental milestones, Murray said, “long term absence of school or work can mean a loss of previously acquired skills, particularly academic skills.” Bottom line, keep them focused and on track as best as you can.
“In home support from family members or tele-learning options may help maintain some of those skills. However, this may be a good time to focus on daily living skills. Participating in household chores such as cooking, dish washing, or self-care, may be a good way to focus on these skills.”
Murray articulated, “parents can demonstrate and teach more independent living skills and offer abundant praise and reinforcement for successes. We know parents are shouldering a lot of the work of teachers and specialists at home, so lean on your providers as much as you can.”
She recommended that parents reach out to their child’s teachers and service providers for a long-term game plan. For more information on how you can acquire bonus resources and/or personalized support during these unprecedented times, or just simply learn more about Autism Speaks, visit AutismSpeaks.org. Any other questions, contact the Autism Response Team at 1-888-AUTISM2, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.