Supporting your autistic child’s mental health during COVID-19

The UK Government have put a raft of measures in place over the last few months, with the aim of managing the spread of COVID-19 – but the reality of living through it is a little challenging, especially if you are a family containing a person with autism or who has been diagnosed as being on the spectrum. You are probably a little worried about how COVID-19 is going to affect you, the autistic member of your family, and your wider family and friends.

As a provider of communication apps for non verbal adults, App2Vox is well aware of just how challenging the last few months have been – and we are still not at the end of it. So, we’ve pulled together some practical tips to try and help you to support someone with autism during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is important to note, however, that we are providing information and not advice. It is general information only, and is not intended as an alternative to the advice you have been given by the relevant professional or specialist.

 

 

Can I get mental health help for my child during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes, you can. GP’s and mental health services, including CAMHS (Child and Mental Health Services) are still operating – while observing the social distancing guidelines as set out by the UK Government. While this means that you may have to have a telephone or video consultation with them rather than in person, they are still able to support you as best they can – and it may take longer than usual to get an appointment.

In the first instance, your first port of call should be the usual health professional you contact – as they know you and your family best. If you need more urgent help than they can offer, then you can try:

  • Asking your normal GP for an emergency appointment
  • Calling NHS 111 for advice
  • Calling your local mental health advice line
  • Calling 999 or going to your nearest open Accident & Emergency Department, if you have urgent medical needs

 

How you can help your child to stick to the social distancing, isolation and lockdown guidelines

  • Start by sharing small amounts of simple information with them, perhaps using apps for nonverbal communication if it will help
  • You should repeat this simple information several times, to help them to grasp it
  • Stay positive, don’t let them watch or listen to too much news
  • Plan together how you will review the information you have given them
  • Let them know that it is important they listen to the information as it will help to protect the and other members of the family
  • When you have finished talking about the guidelines, move onto something more enjoyable

 

How to support someone to manage changes to their routine

Start off by thinking about how you have helped the nonverbal child to manage changes in the past, especially the times that you did this successfully. Always try and be careful with the words you choose, and use the same words consistently. For example, say “COVID-19” or “coronavirus” but not both. Also, emphasise how although some things will change, many things will stay the same.

Some other strategies to try include:

  • Developing a new routine as soon as you are able to. Have some fixed times during the day to do certain things, and free time at other parts of the day. Use resources such as diaries, lists and timetables to support you in this
  • Visual supports, such as App2Vox, can also be a great help as they make communication physical and consistent
  • Make sure to schedule in some fun activities every day – give your autistic child something to look forward to. These should be activities that will happen always, regardless of how challenging their behaviour has been
  • Also schedule in some talking time. It is important for them to feel able to discuss their anxieties, or worries and you should be open to them discussing any problems they may have
  • Some young people with autism like to set a date when they can review changes – this helps them to feel more comfortable about the change rather than having no idea how long the change will last
  • Be aware that we are all also getting an overload of information, some of which is inconsistent. Try to have a good understanding of what information your child is aware of, where they are getting the information from, what they understand about the information they have, and if they have any questions

 

Managing challenging behaviour during lockdown

Most young people and teenagers will be feeling nervous and stressed at the moment, and this may manifest itself as powerful expressions of emotion – especially if your child is on the autistic spectrum. Take a deep breath and remember that they are just reacting to the changing situation. You are also likely to be feeling anxious, so your reaction may change based on that as well.

At the end of the day, we all want to get through this challenging time as safely as we can. This may mean relaxing some boundaries, giving more ‘treats’ or reducing demands – and that’s OK. Once the restrictions are changed, and we all feel more normal again, then you can think about putting these sorts of things back in place – once we are on an even keel as it were.

 

How might supporting an adult with autism be different than a child?

Supporting an adult with autism can be very different from supporting a child with autism – although they may still find change as unsettling. They may also not be living in the same household as you. If you have an adult family member who has been diagnosed with autism, they may still be able to manage their personal care, household activities and be able to take their medication without assistance. However, they will probably need regular contact and support to help them to keep to their routine safely, get some exercise on a daily basis and stick to a healthy diet.

Adults with autism may not seem particularly concerned about social distancing restrictions – but they may feel isolated if they cannot have contact with family members, caregivers and friends. This may be worsened if they had some kind of employment that they are not now able to do.

We don’t want to worry you, but adults with autism are amongst the most common people to be targeted by people who want to exploit them – either by gaining access to their accommodation or their money. You may want to check with them about this on a regular basis to make sure they are protected and safe.

 

Look after yourself as well

Looking after a child or adult with autism can be hard work, and so you should look after your own mental health as well. You matter too.

App2Vox, one of the leading apps for nonverbal autism, can help you to communicate with your nonverbal family member during this difficult time – through the use of sound cards and personalised icons.

Stay safe.