How Autistic Children are Able to Cope with COVID-19

Written by F.D.


Introduction


As of now, the world is currently experiencing one of the worst pandemic that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. According to a research, parents would allocate several hours per week for their children, usually on interventions at home with professional therapists or in dedicated hospitals and institutes. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parents were not able to maintain the scheduling for their children’s therapies as they are in lockdown and are not able to go outside to therapy centres. Therefore, proper education and adjusting daily activities are recommended to reduce parental stress and decrease the risk of regression during this pandemic.


Education on COVID-19


Knowing about COVID-19 is essential for the children to understand the effects of COVID-19 and how they can play a part in breaking the chain. An effective way to impart the knowledge on COVID-19 towards the children is to ensure that the explanation about the virus is simple and concrete. For example, using a lot of pictures to give an idea of how to prevent COVID-19 like washing hands, using hand sanitizers,etc. Pictures of what the virus looks like is also a good way to help the children paint a face behind the name “COVID-19” as the virus is not visible to the naked eye. Besides that, videos or animation can also help immensely for children to better grasp the knowledge on COVID-19.


Another way of presenting the information of COVID-19 towards autistic children includes augmentative alternative communication (AAC). For example, social stories about COVID-19 can be really helpful as it ranges from simple pictures and sentences to slightly more complex sentences depending on the child’s level of understanding. The method of implementation for social story is also very helpful especially for autistic children as it requires consistency and repetition. From information on COVID-19 to the methods and steps on how to curb the virus like washing your hands and wearing masks can be found in various social stories. On top of that parents can demonstrate to their children how to properly wash their hands as a constant routine for their child after reading the social stories. If necessary, get some info-graphics that they can stick to the wall of their children’s bedroom or toilet. In addition, having some visually attractive graphics that will attract the children to follow the step-by-step instructions can be helpful as well. For example, printing a large poster in the children’s bedroom on social distancing procedures


Structuring Daily Life Activities


COVID-19 has caused the everyday lives of people around the world to change significantly as they need to adapt to ‘the new normal’. Therefore, the same concept should apply with the children. Children with ASD tend to have functioning deficits, like higher tendencies of emotional breakdown in terms of cognitive, behavior and emotion which can be challenging for parents. Hence it is important for parents to structure daily life activities and plan them wisely and ahead of time by subdividing daily activities into its own schedule like planning the schedule based on the child’s everyday routine. Parents can substitute school time with tasks or activities.


Another type of structuring that parents can do is to assign each activity to different rooms for a more structured planning. For example, the bedroom can be used as a compact playroom for children to learn while they play toys like having special Lego space for playing Legos. Meanwhile, the bathroom can be used to teach the children how to handle personal hygiene like toilet training. This method is suitable for autistic children with any level of functioning and the experience can be shared for the whole family.


Incorporate Semi-Structured Play Activities In Their Daily Schedule:


Autistic children usually have difficulties in several types of play because of sensory issues or because they prefer structured or semi-structured activities. For example, autistic children have difficulty in playing with tablets due to their sensory difficulties. Therefore, parents can use semi-structured play activities which is a combination of tasks that involves rules but also the flexibility of the child’s imagination. For example, blocks, you need to stack them one after the other to create something but with imagination you can still create something that is very much original in itself. This shows that they can still enjoy playing while learning new skills necessary for their development in the comfort of their own home. It also helps with developing their communication and social skills like turn-taking, sharing, listening, conversation, teamwork, shared attention and problem-solving.

These semi-structured play activities are helpful for parents as they are able to attend therapy during the stay at home period. It also benefits the children in many areas of their development. Each child has their own preferable interests, thus having their own potential benefits. Parents or caregivers therefore should take time to engage in supporting and building their child’s special interests through different activities based on their interests. For instance, a child who has a specific interest in Mathematics can look into different Mathematics related activities as it will be able to help translate it into a potential skill.


Digital Game Based Learning


Parents can also spend time with their children by enjoying playing digital game based learning. This particular type of games utilizes simulation within a video game structure which aims to promote the development of important skills and strategies, stimulating the cognitive and intellectual abilities of the users. These games are designed to help children understand problems or situations that are based on everyday obstacles and to provide opportunities for better problem solving skills.

One of the advantages of digital game based learning is these games are able to improve social cognition by recognizing facial emotions, emotional gestures and emotional situations. Children will be more aware and recognize different emotions from other people based on their experience and observations through the games and simulation. This is important as it conveys to the child the underlying message held in emotions. For example, in a game the character may feel frustrated and sad when it did not reach a goal. The character may have slouched shoulders and a forlorn look on his/her face. This message is then picked up by the player and he or she will be able to recognize and translate the emotion.


Albeit the advantages it has, parents should also be cautious that overexposure to these games could eventually become an absorbent interest in playing constantly for a long period of time which is difficult to prevent, leading to addiction and isolation. This is especially prevalent during the stay at home period as children have a lack of activities to do at home. Therefore, parents, siblings or other caregivers are recommended to share the experience with their children thus giving parents an opportunity to monitor the video game contents.


Maintain Contact with the Schools and Therapists


Due to the pandemic, the learning experience is heavily affected for the children. They had to adapt from physical learning to online learning classes. Not only that but parents and teachers are working even harder to ensure that the process of learning is still maintained even though with a different set of means. With that being said, it is tremendously important for parents to continually keep in contact with their school teachers and therapist to avoid regression.


With that, the teachers were able to share their learning techniques and methods to parents through the online sessions with the children. Improving the parent and teacher relationship as well as strengthening the collaboration between parents and teachers. This applies to one to one therapists as well. Not only that, but children show improvement when time is spent with parents either through learning or playing together.


Conclusion


As proven above, there are a number of ways that education can still be carried out despite the pandemic. As mentioned above, there are alternative ways to do so. These alternative methods provide equal benefits for children in improving their skills, behavior and mental conditions. We hope that the above information will be of help to you and your child. Let us all stay strong during this pandemic!


Reference:

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