We are all a little on edge and trying to do the best we can as we face a quickly changing world and the uncertainty of a pandemic. Feelings of anxiety and discomfort and the sense of disorder and upheaval are likely heightened in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Individuals with ASD often find comfort in routine, sameness, and predictability. When their world turns upside down, it can cause enormous amounts of stress. Combined with social and sensory differences, uncertainty can make the pandemic even more challenging for all. Fortunately, there are interventions and support that can help people with ASD right now.
Create a New Normal
Most people yearn for routine and find comfort in knowing what to expect. People with autism may feel this need more intensely and benefit from the structure of a schedule. Caretakers can make a new schedule reflecting whatever changes have been made to accommodate the new normal. Make it official and write it down. Display it where it can be viewed often, like on the refrigerator. Even small tasks should be included and celebrated, from making the bed to brushing teeth in the morning. Make sure to incorporate plenty of preferred activities into the day to increase happiness and feelings of normalcy. If you’re a parent of a child who has difficulty using or understanding language, Autism Speaks offers a visual schedule, using simple words and pictures for each activity.
Educate to Alleviate Fears
Turn off the news! News can be scary and sensational. Find resources to educate and inform that are straight-forward, factual, and don’t sensationalize. State and local government resource sites offer current information. Advocacy groups and medical professionals serving the ASD community can also be of help. Caregivers can use visuals for each new word or rule associated with the pandemic. Focus on how they can protect themselves through things like hand washing and social distancing. Include handwashing breaks into the daily schedule and make it fun by adding a reward or a favorite song while you wash. For more information about how to support and educate children with ASD during the pandemic, UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute Autism Team developed a PDF full of visuals, social stories (stories with simple language and visuals explaining the pandemic), and other helpful resources.
Try a Face Shield
Wearing a face mask may be a big challenge for people with ASD. Cloth masks can be itchy and hot, feel smothering and pull on the ears. Many individuals with autism have sensory differences, which cause them to be extremely sensitive to touch. Even a small tag on a shirt can feel like sandpaper to a person with autism. Face shields may eliminate the sensory issues posed by masks while still offering protection. TrueHero Face Shields are lightweight and comfortable. TrueHero shields can be trimmed to fit all users, providing safety, comfort, and accessibility to people with ASD. Wearing a mask doesn’t need to be yet another stressor in an already stressful time.
Professionals, teachers, caregivers, and service providers who work with children and adults with ASD may also find it helpful to switch from a mask to a shield. Because of social differences, people with autism are often explicitly taught how to read facial expressions. Without being able to see facial expressions, people with ASD may be at a major social disadvantage when interacting with the people in their lives.
There is a lot of change happening in the world right now. Creating some normalcy with routine, increasing understanding, and providing comfortable alternatives will help people with ASD to be more successful during this time.
© 2020 Silver Disobedience Inc. (SP)