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In this new blog, Occupational Therapist and Clinical Lead (OT) Marie Rodatz offers families advice on how to cope with home isolation with a child on the autism spectrum.
Here in Western Australia, we have been lucky enough to have led pretty “normal” lives for the past few years while COVID has wreaked havoc in most other parts of the world. However, the past 4-5 months has seen WA play catch up with the rest of the world with COVID now relatively widespread in the community.
By now, many people would have experienced isolation either through illness or having been a close contact. For those who haven’t, how do you stay sane if you have to stay home for seven days? And how do you stay sane if you live with a person on the autism spectrum who thrives on consistency and routine and that routine changes without any time for preparation?
Where to start?
Reading a social story suited to your child may be the first step in explaining why they have to stay home and miss things like school, in-person therapy sessions or sports. If your child repeatedly asks you “why?”, keep your answer short and consistent, using the same words every time.
American scientist and autistic adult, Professor Temple Grandin, suggests: “The most important thing is establishing a new schedule. Get up, get dressed, get ready for work or online classes just like you normally would, even if you aren’t leaving home”.
With this in mind, sit down and create a new routine with your child for the next seven (or more) days. Create a schedule that is flexible and if your child is interested, involve them in creating it. Draw pictures, write words, and print pictures from the internet to create your new routine. Crossing things out as you complete them gives you and your child a sense of achievement. Let your child cross things out or move the picture to the finished box. The schedule does not have to be perfect; it can have gaps and unanswered questions.
Activities to do while in isolation
Make everyday things special and let your child help you create a new routine. Use breakfast, lunch and dinner to divide up your day and schedule fun things in between. Who said you can’t have a special treat instead of morning tea? Schedule time for chocolate, ice-cream, or a special fruit smoothie. It is important to have something to look forward to.
Schedule changes and surprises. As you can’t pre-plan everything, add pictures for a “surprise” or a “question mark” to indicate something will happen but you can decide on it later.
Include exercise as often as you can. We all know how important exercise is for our mental health so start the day with an obstacle course in the garden or in the living room, a kids movement session on YouTube or play Simon Says.
If your child’s teacher has provided work for your child to do, then add this to the schedule with regular breaks.
If your teacher has not provided any work, it may still be useful to add some work tasks to your child’s routine. You don’t have to teach your child new concepts but repetition of something they know and can easily do themselves may help increase their confidence. Keep it easy and achievable for your child.
Schedule a drawing session. This can be anything from drawing mermaids and dinosaurs to scribbling as fast as you can using as many colours as possible or kneeling on your driveway and creating big rainbows with chalk.
Time for a break? Let’s turn on the TV or use whatever device you have for some screentime.
Try kids yoga on YouTube. There are so many classes to choose to suit different abilities.
Schedule time for a board game.
Cook or bake together.
Read to your child or let them look through the books on their own.
Listen to a podcast on a topic that your child is interested in. Older primary school-aged children may be interested in listening to Squizkids, a news podcast for children.
Being in the house all day can feel isolating. Try and stay social where you can and schedule video calls with friends or family members.
Remember to take lots of breaks if you have to work from home.
Try to be silly and have fun. Time for a family dance off? Come up with your own isolation song? Sing old family favourites? Do animal walks together?
Talk about your highlights at the end of every day or what you are grateful for.
Don’t forget to add a reward for yourself in your schedule at the end of every day. This could be your favourite chocolate, a glass of wine or an extra episode of your favourite TV show.
Count down the days until you are allowed to leave the house and schedule something special. Go to your favourite shop, get a special treat, or see your best friend.
Just remember, the schedule is supposed to provide you with structure, but it is not supposed to be perfect. Be kind to yourself! This is not your normal life – you are just trying to do your best so celebrate every achievement and pick your battles! Reach out and use your support system and ask your neighbours and friends to drop off milk or an activity book or toy for your children. Your friends want to help and support your family.
You might also want to use this opportunity to try something new. Try a new game. My personal favourite is called “sardines”. It’s like “hide and seek” but you need at least three people to make it fun. One person hides, while the other family members squish together and count to 20. Then each person runs off in different directions to find the person hiding. The first person to find the person in their hiding spot stays quiet and hides with them until the whole family lies on top of each other in a small corner. It makes for a lot of family fun.
Please share with us any suggestions you have that helped you and your family stay sane.