COVID-19: Top 7 Support Tips for Parents Raising
Children on the Autism Spectrum H.O.P.E.F.U.L.

These are unique and challenging times, but we are in this together. Under typical circumstances, our lives can be chaotic and stressful. Given the uncertainty of the virus, we face new, additional challenges that require us to be more creative, patient, and supportive. We need support and coping skills as we have never needed before. We are all in survival mode right now, doing the best we can to handle the abrupt changes in routines, navigating homeschooling, working from home, accepting the quarantine, feeling isolated, missing our social connections, and fearing the virus. And of course, all of this is coupled with our ongoing exerted efforts to parent and support our children on the spectrum.

Let us not pretend that our current circumstances are not producing additional anxiety, burdens, and stress, rather let us be honest, and own the fact that right now we are feeling overwhelmed and everything seems like a daunting task, especially managing and coping with all the adjustments. All parents and children need support during these stressful times, but individuals with autism need extra help and additional support to understand the changes, cope with the uncertainty, and process their associated feelings. Faced with all the new challenges and change, experts are telling us to expect some regression in our children with autism.

Most children on the spectrum have existing anxiety but with the pandemic, their anxiety could be heightened, which increases the signs, behaviors, and symptoms of autism. We need to be mindful of the level of anxiety we are exuding because it is highly likely to produce similar feelings in our children, which will provoke regression. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to make this easy, but things will get better. Moving forward together, as we continue to support our children with autism, let us remain H.O.P.E.F.U.L. and leverage these helpful support tips for both parent and child. Honest; Observe; Plan; Experiment; Fulfill; Unify and Love.

HONEST. Being honest is not just about telling the truth but also about being real with yourself and others. During the COVID-19 crisis, our children are nervous and seek reassurance and comfort. Children with autism are generally honest and prefer clarity in communications, so you need to be more clear, direct, and honest, during these times. Honesty promotes openness, empowers us, and enables us to develop consistency in how we present the facts. Listen calmly and briefly explain the facts. Communicate with your children in an open, yet simple way. Try to avoid overloading your child with too many details. Do not minimize or discount their feelings, rather validate them to provide the comfort needed. Allow your child time, and space if needed, to process the shared information. Honesty is essential because it establishes trust and confidence during the uncertainty, creating a more calming, comfortable, and reassuring environment.

OBSERVE. Purposeful observation is critical during COVID-19. You need to be vigilant in noticing changes in behaviors. If you neglect to be hyper-observant, a regression could sit in without knowing. Direct observation of feelings, interactions, and reactions allow you to evaluate the child’s surrounding environment. Keep track of any changes, notice what was happening or what was being discussed when the strong reaction occurred, possibly find patterns. Keep notes on the child’s reactions and triggers to help you understand the biggest influences on your child right now. Try and address issues immediately to prevent regression. Observe without fail.

PLAN AND EXPERIMENT. Create daily plans. Planning gives you a clear perspective on what needs to be done and helps manage your time. Having a plan prevents distractions that typically add to your stress level. Incorporating a plan into your day gives you control over the circumstances as opposed to having circumstances control you. A plan incorporates structure, stability, and balance despite the uncertainty. Plan meals for the week to alleviate the stress that comes with grocery decisions, what to cook, and when. Post your meal plan so everyone knows the scheduled meals. In addition to meal plans, consider other ideas to plan such as scheduled times for chores, TV time, creative arts, COVID-19 chat, fun time, opportunities for expression, personal time, outdoor time, calming activities, virtual social connection times, so on and so forth. Experiment with what works and what does not and adapt accordingly. What works for one, might not work for others. Having a plan is the most effective and beneficial way to maximize your time, effort, and energy. A vague plan has no hope for fulfillment.

FULFILL and UNIFY. Find things and activities that bring you and your child joy and satisfaction. During difficult times, we tend to neglect our needs and wants. Follow your heart and your children’s desires, no matter how silly it may seem. As they say, “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Laughter stimulates fulfillment and triggers healthy physical and emotional changes. Find, appreciate, and highlight what brings fulfillment to your child because they experience the world in a quite different way. Unite, come together, form a whole, and recognize common ground. Stay safe but stay connected.

LOVE. Love needs no words. As Dani Bowman so eloquently said, “English is my 2nd language. Autism is my first.” Love is a universal language that we all crave, need, and want, especially now. Individuals with autism struggle with language and communication, but they can still hear your words and feel your love. Being a loving and supportive parent is being whatever it is your child needs. Separate your feelings and love them as they are…unconditionally. Take a deeper, greater interest in your child with autism. Work through these tough times. Endure the chaos together. Embrace every moment together. You and your child need and deserve to love and be loved, to give you the strength to carry on, not just to survive but to thrive in these times. Love conquers all. Autism is not a label or a word. It is a child to be loved.

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