How to Help Your Autistic Child Cope with Lockdown

Lockdown is difficult for all of us, but for those with autism spectrum disorder it is a hundred times worse.  Their anxieties are increased exponentially, their usual routines are disrupted, and many of the activities they usually enjoy are curtailed.  It's been hard for us, so I thought I would share our experience and some ideas for how to help an autistic child cope better during lockdown.

How Autism in Lockdown is for Us

We have been struggling big time here over the past month or so.  Huge meltdowns every day, crazed behaviour, manic episodes, stimming, lots of extreme tics and coping mechanisms, plus some new ones to add to the mix.  Lara is not a happy girl right now.

I was so relieved today to get the welcome news that, after a legal challenge, people with autism and other conditions are to be allowed to leave the house more than once a day for walks, and to travel to familiar or quieter places further afield.  This will make a real difference to us.

If lockdown is hard on neurotypical people, imagine how much harder the changes, restrictions and upended life is for people with autism!

Lara happily eats around 8-10 different meals (quite impressive for an autistic child believe me!).  But due to all the panic buying I haven't been able to get hold of the foods and brands she eats.

I can't go to Asda (16 miles away) to get the only toiletry products she will use.

She can't go to the playground, or any of the places we usually have carefully woven into our routine at this time of year.

She hates washing her hands, so refuses to touch anything outside, or panics when people come near us on a walk.

She is obsessing over the rest of us washing our hands countless times whenever we leave the house.

She understands what's going on but it fills her with anxiety and panic, and all she wants is an end date to know how many more days she has to suffer this terror.

So every day sees screaming, hair pulling, noise tics, banging her head, hitting, scratching, shouting, and more.  It's exhausting.  It's distressing.  I wish it would end and we could get back to normal.  I miss this smile.

How to Help Your Autistic Child Cope During Lockdown

There are 700,000 diagnosed (so actually many more) autistic people in the UK.

If you are the parent or carer of an autistic child, I'm sure you will be coping with the same, or a different, smorgasbord of issues right now too.

Here are some ideas that might help:

  • Make a sensory space if you don't have one already
  • Explain to them what's going on, every day if necessary, but only as much as they need to know
  • Remind them that it's not forever, things will get back to normal after a while
  • Remind them that most people get better quickly and only have mild symptoms
  • Answer there questions and offer lots of reassurance
  • Remember that worries are natural, and reassure your child of this too
  • Promise you are doing all you can to make sure you and Daddy don't get sick
  • Give them lots of space and time to process things, these are sensitive souls
  • Be as calm, positive and upbeat as possible yourself
  • Keep a routine so they know when to expect a walk, snacks, meals and bedtime to happen
  • Be your child's safe place
  • Connect to their interests and activities, rather than expecting them to join you or to ask
  • Play as much as possible
  • Let them watch favourite TV shows that might comfort them, but try to minimise iPad use
  • Supply endless cuddles and whatever kind of physical contact they prefer
  • Don't insist on any school work, let them do things that interest them
  • Supply plenty of their preferred snacks in whatever textures work best for them
  • Explain to siblings how they can help, and when to leave the autistic child alone
  • Get them to bed at the same (early) time every night - invest in blackout film if you need to
  • No screens for at least an hour before bed
  • Take care of yourself every evening - read, take a bath, phone a friend, watch a comedy show

More vestibular activities to try:

  • Hanging upside down on a chair or off the end of a bed
  • Curling up in a ball and rocking around
  • Rolling like a log or down a hill
  • Crawling up and down stairs

Change like we are all going through at the moment is never easy and can be bewildering and distressing.  But for young people on the autistic spectrum, it is especially difficult to cope with and extremely confusing and upsetting.  Follow these tips to help your autistic child cope a bit better.

For more information and support see the National Autistic Society website.

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