How to help an autistic child cope with the pandemic lockdown

If you know anything about autistic children and those on the spectrum, then you will have realised that many of them are struggling with the coronavirus pandemics and the drastic changes to daily life it has brought about. Life, for an autistic child, is all about routine, and school closures and changes to public transport has meant they have had to cope with sudden changes and routines that have been radically altered. Communication apps for autism can help you to explain these changes to them so that they don’t spiral into aggressive or other harmful behaviour in reaction to it.

Most autistic children have sensory sensitivities, such as an oversensitivity to bright lights or loud noises. This can make it much harder for them to participate in normal activities than those who are not autistic – and it is sometimes even impossible for them. They may also be dealing with processing delays and communication disabilities as well. When specialists are dealing with autistic children with these sorts of issues, they tend to focus on persuading them to make eye contact and stop other behaviour by offering some kind of treat in return – which can sometimes mean that they were being rewarded for stopping the only behaviour they knew how to do to deal with any pain or frustration they were feeling.

Relating this back to the current COVID19 pandemic we find ourselves dealing with, it should come as no surprise then that many autistic children are finding it hard to cope with the demands being placed on them that are no doubt exceeding their tolerance level. After all, we are all finding the demands placed on us at the moment unexpected – so there is no reason why autistic children would be any different.



Coping strategies for autistic children

So, with all of this in mind, how can we help out autistic loved ones to cope better with the changes caused by the pandemic, while keeping in mind their particular needs and respecting their coping mechanisms?


Here are some ideas:


Be patient.

It may sound like an easy thing to say but we don’t mean it in a blasé way. Think about how you reacted to the pandemic and the lockdown restrictions, and how long it took you to fully understand and be comfortable with them, and then realise that your autistic child will probably need even more time to come to terms with things. They will not immediately take to new routines – whether that includes being constrained to the home, or having to complete lessons online – so lower your expectations of this. Try and think of ways you can make their new routine more engaging for them, and present it to them in a way which they will most easily understand. Understand that some things, such as wearing a mask, may never be a possibility for them due to their sensory issues – and that’s OK. Use free apps for nonverbal communication to help communicate with your child, and make sure they are ready for their activity to change – or other transitions.


Provide them with structure.

Structure is key to helping autistic children to cope with anything, so provide them with structure in the way in which they prefer it – such as using visual clues and other schedules. Stick to the schedule – show them it is reliable and that their routine is predictable. Explain to them any changes that are going to happen, before they happen (if possible).


Stay calm.

Being empathetic and staying as calm as possible during these difficult times is key, so that your child doesn’t react to your stress levels or amplify your feelings at a time when things are hard enough as they are. This may mean giving each other more space than you would normally – and again, this is OK.


Let your child self soothe (stim).

Allowing your child to self soothe using a fidget, by rocking or hand-flapping is OK – as long as they not hurting themselves and can self-regulate. Look at it this way, many of us are soothing our worries by eating more or drinking more at the moment – so it is reasonable to assume your child will want to self soothe themselves in some way too.


Be mindful of your child’s social preferences.

No two autistic children are the same. Some autistic children are extraverts who will miss the social aspects of their life massively, while others are more introverted and so don’t miss the social aspects of life and are more than happy with the fact that they now have to stay at home more.


Encourage them to get physical.

Exercise and movement is good – especially if your child is energetic. Physical activity can help autistic children to better self-regulate.


Watch for any signs of illness.

You know your child better than anyone, and so you know that they are not best able to communicate how they are feeling, and so won’t behave like a ‘typical’ sick person. Some will carry on as though they are not sick, whereas some will absolutely implode. Sometimes, autistic children with temperatures, may even become more engaged than usual – so it may be best to establish your child’s baseline temperature, and check it daily to make sure.


How to talk to your autistic child about Coronavirus

As we have said it is important to communicate with your autistic child about the situation we find ourselves in. Here are some tips on how to do that successfully:


Hear your child out.

Your child is presumably already well aware that life isn’t what it used to be, but you may not yet be sure about what their feelings and thoughts about these changes. Set aside some time in your day to talk to them about it – and offer them the opportunity to answer you verbally or by using visual communication tools – such as App2Vox. This will help to give you a better idea of their understanding of what is happening, and how they feel about it.


Use concrete language that is simple to understand.

In addition to keeping in mind the way you child prefers to communicate, verbally or non-verbally, make sure you use clear and direct language when you are talking to them about what the coronavirus is, why we need to social distance, and how this may affect their daily routine. Try and avoid using analogies or metaphors as these can be confusing to an autistic child.


Use visual supports.

It is really important to convey information about the coronavirus in the way your child will understand. Visual stories and supports are two ways you can explain the situation, and provide your child with a step by step guide they can use to understand the recent changes. You can use visual supports to explain to your child how to wash their hands, why their school is closed and the rules for social distancing.

We developed App2Vox, one of the best apps for nonverbal autism, to help autistic children and their families to thrive together – in tough times like this and better ones as well.