COVID-19, or Coronavirus, is a new type of illness that many people the world over are suffering from. It is impacting on everyone’s daily lives – including those on the autism spectrum and their families. We care very deeply about the non-verbal community, and so the team at App2Vox wanted to provide you with some information and tips to help you to get through this difficult time. You should also make sure you keep up to date with the advice from the UK Government and the NHS as well. What is coronavirus / COVID-19? Coronavirus is a virus that causes an illness called COVD-19, and the symptoms of this illness are: A new continuous cough – you start coughing all the time A high temperature – your back or your chest feels very hot A change to or loss of your sense of smell or taste Try not to worry too much though, most people who develop COVID-19 will get better. If you think you have the virus you should stay at home. If you don’t feel better after 7 days then you need to contact the NHS through their online service or via 111. How we can help coronavirus from spreading It is really important that we all do what we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 and we can do this by: Washing our hands frequently with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds Do not touch your nose, mouth or eyes Stay at home as much as possible. If you have to go out wear a mask over your nose and mouth Use a tissue to catch any coughs or sneezes What should you do if someone in your home becomes ill? If you are a caregiver and someone in your home becomes ill, the best advice is to: Keep the sick person at home unless they have to get medical care. If they have to leave the home to get medical care make sure that the doctor’s office knows that they have symptoms of COVID-19 and ensure the sick person is wearing a mask in order to protect others Keep the sick person separated from the rest of the family, in a specific room. You should also make sure they use a different bathroom from everyone else, if possible. Try and keep their eating and drinking utensils and clothing separate from the rest of the families as well. All items should be thoroughly washed after each use Everyone should wear masks when they are in the same room as the sick person, and all windows should be kept open (if the weather allows). Disposable gloves should also be worn in case you come into contact with any items that have been in contact with the sick persons bodily fluids, such as saliva or mucus. Throw away your gloves and mask after each use, and don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth Make sure the sick person coughs or sneezes into a tissue – which should immediately be disposed of in a lined rubbish bin and then hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and hot water – or use hand sanitiser if no hot water is available Wash all of your clothes after each wear, at the highest possible temperature as dictated on the label. Clean your hands after loading the washing machine How to talk to an autistic person about Coronavirus If you have a family member with autism or are caring for someone with autism, then it is important to talk to them about the virus and the ongoing lockdown situation. You should do this in a way that gives them the information they need, but that doesn’t frighten them unnecessarily. Some tips we have found useful include: Talking to the child before they hear it from someone else, so that you have a good understanding of what they know and can explain things to them in an age appropriate way Communicate with them in the way that they prefer – there are resources out there that will help you to do this – such as pictures and stories Give your child the time they need to process the information – they may want to think about it for a while or even “play” before they are ready to talk about it. Just make sure they know you are available to talk to them about things if they need to Keep in contact with other people in their lives, such as caregivers, school workers, medical staff and so on, so that they are all aware of how much they know Keep a close eye on them to make sure there are no changes in routine or signs of distress that may give you a clue that they are finding it hard to process. They may need additional support if they are feeling anxious or stressed Keep calm about the situation, and be prepared to be reassuring and positive around your child in order to help them to feel safe throughout this frightening situation Top tips for families with autistic children This is a time of much disruption and anxiety for everyone, and it can be especially difficult for those with autism and their families. Even if your child is non-verbal, they will still pick up on your stress levels and tone of voice. It is important to realise that your child’s usual routine that they are used to will have been changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 restrictions. You should talk to them about this and help them to realise that although the routine has changed, they still have a routine, but this may change again as time goes on It is also important to identify that their sensory environment has also changed as your support service and their school is probably not available to them. If you don’t already have a quiet sensory area in your home, then perhaps think about creating a space for them that is filled with sensory activities and toys Give them time to process the information, they will have to absorb a lot of information which may change every day, and try not to overwhelm them with too much. You know your child better than anyone, and so you are the best judge of what they need to know. Give them the opportunity to ask you questions whenever they think of them too The fact that we are socially distancing from people means it is easy for us to feel isolated. Families with autistic family members need a lot of support, so try and connect with people in different ways – such as through video chats or some other online community Realise that your communication with your child might change during this time. They may find communicating even more difficult than usual during this stressful time. Try different ways to reach them, such as text or the App2Vox app for example. Over the coming months we will be sharing more useful articles like this to help you and your autistic children during this difficult time. Please keep an eye on our blog for more information. Stay safe.