Coronavirus (COVID-19): Helping nonverbal kids with autism cope

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is keeping us all at home – and away from other people – to help stop the spread of the virus. Adjusting to the new normal and a new routine has been stressful for us all, but none more so than nonverbal kids with autism who rely on apps to help non verbal communication. Sudden change like this is never easy for anyone, but it can be more difficult to navigate and may even cause distress to those on the autistic spectrum.

The spread of coronavirus has caused unavoidable change, and led to the sudden closure of many care and school settings – with the main intention of slowing the path of the pandemic. This has meant that many families have had no option to change their routines, if not their whole lives, and this has created a slew of issues for people with autism and their families and caregivers.

As a provider of one of the leading communication apps for non verbal people, the team at App2Vox have pulled together some tips on how to help your child to get an understanding of what is going on, and what they can expect on a day-to-day basis. This may be the best way to help them adjust during this time.



Telling your autistic child about Coronavirus

A lot of children on the autistic scale may not be able to express their feelings or frustrations, or even know exactly what is going on. This makes it really important for you to talk to your child about coronavirus in a way which is easy for them to understand. You could say something along the lines of “Coronavirus is a germ that makes people sick, like a common cold. So, we need to stay away from people to make sure we stay healthy.”

Framing it like this, in a clear, honest and direct way can help them to understand why they have to stay home from school, why you are working from home as well, and why family trips out and other activities have been put on hold.

Try and get them to understand that the main rules are:

  • Washing their hands well and often – for at least twenty seconds
  • Trying not to touch their eyes, nose or mouth
  • Keeping at least one metre away from other people
  • Wearing a cloth mask in public places

As usual, give your child the space and time they need to come back to you with any questions, but don’t offer them any more detail than you need to. For example, don’t tell them about what happens to people who catch coronavirus, unless they specifically ask.


How to help your autistic child understand what is going on

As with most things, kids with autism will need extra support to help them to understand the situation that is going on around them – and what is now expected from them.

Communication apps like App2Vox can be a great resource which helps both them, and you, to communicate with them and to show them what might happen in some situations, and what they should do. You can use App2Vox to help them to understand:

  • The importance of washing their hands
  • Social distancing
  • Learning at home
  • New routines


How to help your autistic child to adjust to the new situation

Many children with autism find routine a real comfort, so you should try and keep as many of their routines as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stick to their regular bedtimes and getting up times, snack and meal times, screen time, chores around the house and so on.

However, you will need to introduce some new routines to help them with learning at home and taking exercise. You can help your child to adjust to these new routines by offering them some choices e.g. what lesson your child would like to do next or what they would like for lunch. This also encourages them to communicate as well.

Using to do lists and visual schedules may help the child to understand what to expect, while things like timers can help them transition from one task to the next. Having a set routine like this, and showing them that you have clear expectations for them, can help to lower their anxiety about things changing.


Ways to help your autistic child to stay calm

Kids with autism tend to have repetitive behaviours that they display when they are feeling scared, worried or frustrated – behaviours such as hand flapping or rocking. These can be challenging for parents and caregivers to deal with.

You are the best person to know how to best calm your child down, but some techniques that other parents have shared with us include:

  • Playing
  • Acting out fears
  • Talking together
  • Doing crafts
  • Writing
  • Using augmented communication devices

Other good calming activities include watching a favourite video, listening to some music or even deep breathing exercises.

It may also help to not have the news on the television or radio too much, and encourage your child not to search for information on the internet or take too much notice of what is shared on social media. If they do see something upsetting, encourage them to share it with you so that you can talk it over between you.


How to manage the changes within your family home

Make sure that everyone in the family, not just the autistic child, is aware of the new behavioural strategies you are going to put in place, so that everyone can use the same strategies. This can help in situations such as not being able to get the food you want on the weekly shop – you can start to plan your meals in advance so that you can give the child notice that their meal is going to be different and give them time to get used to it.

It is also important to remember that with everyone being at home together more often, this will be a new environment for your child to navigate. Noise levels may be higher than they are used to, for example. If your child has sensory issues then this may cause them some distress and so you will need to think of a way to combat this – such as allowing them to listen to music through headphones or wearing ear defenders.

Apps for non verbal children are just one resource that can help during this stressful time, but make sure to stay in touch with your child’s health care provider or caregiver as well, as they will be able to help you out as well.

Stay safe.