Autism Awareness Month: How to Deal with Changes to Routine During COVID-19

Autism can come in many forms. One very common trait of people with autism is restrictive or repetitive behaviours, such as being fixed on a routine. Whilst COVID-19 has changed many of our lives, for those with autism, it can seem like their world is turning upside down. But not to worry! We’ve come up with some handy tools to help ease the transition.

Start with the School Day

Adapting your child’s school routine to your home environment will be key for keeping routine. Develop a modified schedule of your child’s typical school day, bearing in mind the demands on caregivers. For children with communication needs, you can present this 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.

Your child’s typical 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 your 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.  Take the approach of home learning rather than homeschooling.  

Build in extra time for physical activity. 

Include gross motor activities to encourage both physical and mental well-being. You can also use this time 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 you walk or work outside 
  • Decorating your outdoor entry or walkway with chalk 

Include your 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. 

Tips for Success

Email or call your 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.  

Use visual supports to communicate the new routine. 
Ask your 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.  

Include self-care as part of your day
When taking on these extra responsibilities, it is just as important to look after yourself, as it is your child. Juggling the demands of remote work or lack of employment, distance learning, childcare and managing a household can quickly affect your mental and physical health, and in turn, the social dynamics of your family. Schedule a time each day to do something that recharges you: meditation or prayer, reading a book for pleasure, engaging in a favorite hobby or another activity that helps you feel better. In addition, try to get regular and adequate sleep. Fatigue can increase stress and risk for other negative outcomes.

Long-term plans
Once your school day routine is in place, make a weekly plan for the family. 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 the closure will also make it easier for your child to transition back to school when it reopens. 

We hope this article helps you cope a bit better with the impacts of COVID-19 on your family. If you’d like to know more about how Umbo can help you with this transition, don’t hesitate to get in touch for a free 15-minute consultation.