Schools are closing all over the nation, and I’ve been seeing dozens of my friends struggling with what this means for their family.
Who will watch the kids if their parents work?
How will they teach their child for the nearly 2 months schools are closed in some states (like my state of Washington)?
How in the world are they going to keep their kids busy and entertained when they can’t leave their house for weeks?
But I noticed something different with a lot of my audience…
See, when you have an Autistic child, big transitions and changes like this are so much more difficult.
Autistics thrive on routine and knowing what to expect, and frankly, none of us truly know what to expect over the coming weeks.
So I thought I’d share a few practical strategies you can use to help your Autistic child through school closures.
5 Strategies to Help Your Autistic Child Through School Closures
Before I dive in, I want to take a moment and share something I think will have a bigger impact on the next few weeks for your family than any tip, hack, or strategy…
We don’t have a lot of choices right now, and that feels really scary.
We didn’t choose for a novel virus to become a global pandemic.
We didn’t choose for schools to close for weeks at a time.
We didn’t choose to be stuck at home because everything from the library to the museum to the park is shutting down.
But here’s where you do have a choice: You get to choose how you’re going to show up over the next few weeks.
You get to choose whether you are going to expect a terrible time where there are meltdowns galore and you’re completely losing it…
Or if you’re going to choose to show up the best you can to make the most out of this situation that none of us wanted.
Choosing to stay positive and make the most out of this time—instead of feeling stuck in a pity party or anxiety spiral—is the first and most important strategy I could hope to teach you.
With that said, if you’ve decided to make the most out of this crummy situation, let’s dive into the 5 ways to help your Autistic child through school closures.
#1 Remember Behavior is Communication
Your Autistic child is having their entire world and routine turned upside down.
Their school has canceled until “at least” sometime in April, but none of us actually know when kids will be headed back to school.
On top of that, the news is on and talking about scary things like quarantines and death rates and global pandemics.
On top of that, you might be asking them to change habits like chewing on their fingers or making them wash their hands more than normal in order to prevent illness.
It’s a LOT for any kid to handle, but especially for Autistic children who may hyperfocus on the chaos or might be struggling with anxiety already.
So in all likelihood, your child is going to struggle with more challenging behaviors than they typically do.
You may see an increase in meltdowns. You might see more refusal to do things. You might even see more self-harming behaviors.
The important thing to remember is that all of those behaviors are communication.
Your child isn’t trying to give you a hard time or acting out because they’re angry.
They’re misbehaving because the world is overwhelming them, they’re scared, and they don’t know any other way to communicate that.
And knowing that behavior is communication helps you to approach behaviors in a more positive way.
But if you’re thinking “okay, I know they’re communicating, but I still need to figure out how to stop the meltdowns!” I highly encourage you to check out the Calm the Chaos Workshop that we’re running for the next 2 weeks.
We had the fancy-schmancy workshop planned, and when you sign up here you get instant access to that.
But with the crisis that so many people are facing, we wanted to shift gears and serve you in a deeper way.
So in the private Facebook community for those in the workshop, Dayna & I are doing a LIVE Calm the Chaos Crisis Workshop where we’re taking elements of our full program and sharing them with you to help you use the Framework immediately.
And it’s completely free. Click here to sign up for the workshop.
#2 Focus on Connection
When you’re stuck inside for weeks at a time, this strategy might be the last thing you want to hear.
I mean, you’ll be getting too much connection, right?
But here’s the thing… Being in the same 4 walls is not really connection.
When I say focus on connection, I mean to focus your energy on connecting with your Autistic child.
Not on keeping the house completely put together or completing every worksheet in the packet your child’s teacher sent home with them.
So I want you to think about how you can create a moment for your child during this super stressful time.
- Can you play their favorite video game with them?
- Make their favorite food with them?
- Stay up and build a fort and have a movie night?
Remember to meet your Autistic child where they’re at and connect the way they enjoy.
Expecting your Autistic child to suddenly love family game night if it’s something they’ve always hated is not really going to fly.
So focus on connecting with your child their way and you’ll both make it through the next few weeks easier.
#3 Get Self-Care Time
Now before you throw things at me and say it’s impossible to get self-care when you have an Autistic child home 24-7, hear me out.
I’m not saying you should take time away. Right now it’s darn near impossible to get out of the house.
I’m not saying you should take long luxurious bubble baths. Unless that’s your thing, I mean, you do you.
What I am saying is that if you aren’t getting regular self-care time to help you get through the next few weeks, you’re going to burn out and completely exhaust yourself.
And you can’t help your child get through the next few weeks if you aren’t getting through them yourself.
So I encourage you to find small moments of self-care throughout your day.
Can you spend 5 minutes in silence in the mornings before your child wakes up?
Or maybe you can put in headphones and listen to your favorite song while cooking dinner.
It might even be that you step away from social media and read an actual book (instead of more news stories or blog posts like this one about the coronavirus).
If you’re struggling to find ways to get self-care, click here to check out my Practical Self-Care Guide for parents of Autistic children.
#4 Build Routines Together
I saw a sample coronavirus schedule floating around Facebook today that has scheduled walks, reading time, electronic time and more.
It’s been shared thousands of times…
But it won’t work for most people.
See, you can go to Pinterest or Facebook and you can find a beautiful schedule system that works perfectly for that blogger you follow, but it likely won’t work for your family.
Now that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater… You should definitely try to fall into a routine for the weeks you spend at home.
But your routine should be unique to your child and your family.
Our routine has screentime first thing in the morning while I get work done.
Then we have lunch, then a nap/rest time, and then we start school work at 3:00 PM.
It’s definitely not the magic routine circulating all over the interwebs, but it’s what works for us because of our family dynamic.
So I encourage you to spend a few days observing what your Autistic child naturally does in the first few days.
When do they get bored? When are they tired? When are they hungry?
And work together with your Autistic child (or your family as a whole) to figure out a routine that works for all of you.
#5 Plan for Sensory Needs
One of the biggest struggles you and your Autistic child are likely to face is how to meet your child’s sensory needs on a regular basis.
Whether your child is a sensory avoider being triggered by the overwhelming sensory input of everyone being home all the time…
…Or they’re a sensory seeker frustrated that they can’t get out to run, jump, spin, and dig in the dirt…
Your child is likely struggling to meet their sensory needs in a safe way.
(Not to mention a way that doesn’t make you feel like pulling your hair out)
So I encourage you, if you haven’t already, take the time to learn about the different sensory systems.
Figure out if your child tends to be a seeker or avoider with different sensory systems or in different scenarios.
Then work toward building a sensory diet with accommodations, tools, and activities to help meet your child’s sensory needs on a regular basis so they can stay regulated and comfortable.
I know this feels super overwhelming, so I’ve put together a bundle of my best sensory resources to help you.
The Sensory Made Simple Bundle has everything you need to understand the different sensory systems, discover your child’s unique sensory profile, and create your starter sensory diet in just 5 days.
Click here to find more information about the Sensory Made Simple Bundle.
Ultimately, I want you to know that my heart is with you during this time of crisis.
We’re going to get through this together, friend.
You’re not on this autism journey alone.
If you’re looking for more help parenting Autistic children, here are some posts you may want to check out: