Creating a new predictability for kids with autism following COVID-19 pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Through the pandemic, we've all had struggles with changing rules and routines and a lack of social contact. However, these challenges have hit children with autism even harder.

Rasul Bey, 7, can spend hours reading about the presidents. But when school went online last year, his patience ran out fast.

"By 11 o'clock, he's like over it. He was screaming how he doesn't like the pandemic. He wants to be back in school with his friends," said Latyia Johnson, Rasul's mother.

Latyia says Rasul is creative and caring. Last December, he made headlines for organizing a toy drive for children in need.

But his autism demands a time structure.

"He knows that at 7:20, we're starting putting on book bags," said Latyia.

Dr. Mark Netoskie, a Cigna medical market executive, agrees that the pandemic hit kids with autism especially hard.

"It may have caused increased anxiety for kids during this time, changes in sleep habits, eating," he said.

"We believe he went backwards," added Latyia. "We were going over the same goals he had last year."

With camps and vacations here, Dr. Netoskie says families need to create a new predictability.

"Talk about what's going to be happening - storyboards, trying to paint the picture for them to anticipate the changes," he said.

And do the same for the upcoming school year as soon as possible.

"There may be changes in the school setting that the child remembers - around how many people there were in the class, the set-up may be different. Now, there may be a different type of schedule," said Dr. Netoskie.

Acknowledge your child's fear and frustrations, and that you're dealing with changes, too.

"So, practicing how we'll be dealing with our day," said Dr. Netoskie.

Latyia says if Rasul can see a goal, he makes it happen.

"He learned how to ride a bike. He wants to learn how to skate," she said

Rasul also wants to learn to ride a skateboard. He's also planning an even bigger charity drive this summer.

For more information and resources:
Cigna.com: Autism Awareness, Resources and Seminars
Elwyn.org: Support for Children and Adults with Autism
Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.