7 tips to help clients with autism deal with the disruption of lockdown

With continual lockdowns on the horizon for much of Australia, changes to routine can be disruptive to all of us. For people with autism, it can be even more devastating. One very common trait of people with autism is restrictive or repetitive behaviours, such as being fixed on a routine. Transitions are hard.

This is where occupational therapy, delivered online, can come into play. By setting and maintaining a routine, involving visual cues, children with autism can navigate this challenging time.

If you’re a support coordinator, a clinician or a parent, online therapy can help.

Here are 7 tips to help clients with autism deal with changes to routine during a COVID-19 lockdown.

Create a home learning routine

Families would do well to take the approach of home learning rather than homeschooling. This means adapting a child’s school routine to the home environment to maintain routine. Develop a modified schedule of the child’s typical school day, bearing in mind the demands on caregivers. For children with communication needs, this can be presented in a visual schedule. Here is one we’ve created for you to print at home.

The end product should be a balance of structured activities, accompanied by a lay-out of expectations of what happens next.

Mimic the child’s school schedule 

Start with the first period or subject of the day, and structure an at-home “school day” routine that follows the subjects and activities that the child typically does in their school and classroom. For example, if their day typically starts with writing and moves on to science, gym, lunch, recess, math, snack and ends with music, you can loosely structure at-home learning activities in this order.  

Build in extra time for physical activity. 

Include gross motor activities to encourage both physical and mental well-being. You can also suggest that this time be used for family connection by doing outdoor activities together, such as walking or going for a bike ride around the neighborhood (while practicing social distancing, of course). You could also consider an at-home workout (search YouTube for family-friendly workouts and yoga classes) and modeling a habit of regular daily exercise. A great home workout for young people is the ‘PE with Joe’ series on YouTube, from The Body Coach TV.

In addition to exercise, you can focus on just getting outside for more family-based activities, such as: 

  • Setting up a treasure hunt in the yard 
  • Playing “I Spy” while walking or work outside 
  • Decorating the outdoor entry or walkway with chalk 

Include the child in household chores 

Household chores encourage progress in daily living skills. This may be an opportunity to take advantage of extra time at home together, where you can demonstrate and teach more independent living skills and offer abundant praise and reinforcement for successes. 

Don’t forget to reach out to the child’s teachers and service providers

They can help you get set up, initially, and to develop a long-term plan for implementing techniques or working toward goals at home. They may be able to offer a web-based video training session, and recurring visits to check in if you need them.  

Ask the child’s teachers or service providers for the tools they use at school so that you can recreate them at home. Refer to the visual schedule above.  

Make sure that carers are practicing self-care

When taking on extra responsibilities, it is just as important that carers look after themselves. Juggling the demands of remote work or lack of employment, distance learning, childcare and managing a household can quickly affect mental and physical health, and in turn, the social dynamics of any family. Encourage family members to schedule a time each day to do something that recharges them: meditation or prayer, reading a book for pleasure, engaging in a favorite hobby or another activity that helps them feel better. Fatigue can increase stress and risk for other negative outcomes.

Prepare for the marathon, not the sprint

Once the school day routine is in place, ensure the family is making a weekly plan. This should also include a visual schedule your child can follow. When everyone is home indefinitely, understanding more concretely which days are “learning” days rather than “family” days can help decrease anxiety and give children a sense of order. Maintaining a regular schedule during lockdown will also make it easier for the child to transition back to school when it reopens. 

We hope these tips provide some guidance on how families can navigate lockdown. The good news is that despite lockdown, online therapy can continue regardless, assisting children to cope with changes to routine.

Get help from one of our occupational therapists

Meet Poorani Balasundaram, one of our occupational therapists who works with children and adults who have autism

Umbo provides occupational therapy for people with autism online, Australia-wide. Occupational therapy can help people with activities that they do in their everyday life. This includes helping children and adults with an Autism spectrum diagnosis who have difficulty with:

  • Interacting and socialising with others
  • Understanding how to deal with different sights/sounds/textures
  • Managing emotions in appropriate ways
  • Looking after themselves and their belongings
  • Mobilising and travelling safely
  • Planning and carrying out chores or jobs
  • Getting dressed, washing and going to the toilet
  • Understanding how to count money and create a budget
  • Concentrating on a task
  • Moving their body how they want to

Umbo is a registered NDIS provider. We can provide a reliable occupational therapist to work with your client online to achieve their goals.