Helping kids with autism during these changing times

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Monday, March 23, 2020

WYNNEFIELD (WPVI) -- The coronavirus pandemic has caused a major shift in family life.

Not only are kids out of school, and out of their normal schedules, many families are under local or state orders to stay at home.

The routines that children, especially those with autism and learning differences, normally thrive on are gone.

Parents are scrambling to establish new patterns, to keep children emotionally and educationally sound.

Dr. Jessica Joseph, Director of Programs, Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support at St. Joseph's University, says what children need most right now is calm from their parents.

"Children of all ages (neurotypical or individuals on the Autism spectrum) feed off of the energy of adults that they are immediately around," says Dr. Joseph.

Don't telegraph your anxieties and frustrations.

Explain the situation, but make sure children know they are loved and will be cared for.

She says keeping emotions on an even keel is especially important since we're spending more time indoors.

She also says:

1) Be present with your children. While working from home it can be very tempting to sit them in front of electronics and/or the television so you can get work done; however, this is where your children need you most.

2) Have a structured visual schedule that includes hands on and sensory friendly activities. This does not have to be complex. It could consist of pictures and times or just a simple handwritten schedule on a whiteboard/paper within you home.

3) Praise your child each step of the way and use reinforcing activities and/or their favorite treats to keep the motivation going throughout the day.

4)Take time for structure as well as breaks. Consistency is key.

5)Be aware that some days may be better than others. One minute everything could be going smoothly, then the next it could be more chaotic; that is OK!

Dr. Joseph says there are many educational activities and teaching that can continue at home.

"Take advantage of unique spaces within your home; create a reading nook, make a blanket fort and explore, or turn the lights out and 'go to outer space,' she says.

"Creativity is key," she notes.

Dr. Joseph suggests indoor workouts, yoga, "or even make a simple hand puppet show with your own socks!"

She says children are resilient, and if they get good support now they won't have any long-lasting effects.