It’s been ten long weeks since Ireland went into lockdown. Although the situation is far from over, seeing the number of cases of COVID-19 dropping and restrictions easing as our country gradually begins to reopen – gives us all a little hope.
Personally, our own family and friends have been keeping in touch, concerned about how are we managing with Sebastian, and they are quite surprised to hear that we are doing quite well all things considered.
At the beginning of the restrictions, Sebastian did struggle with the sudden and extreme changes to our routine. It was difficult for everyone, but particularly for people with autism, who tend to rely on their routines and structure so much.
After the first two weeks, we gradually developed a new routine… Here are the 3 things we did to make lockdown more manageable for him (and for us!).
We created a new routine… and we stuck to it!
Children with autism thrive on routine. For Sebastian – routine works like magic. If he is not feeling well, starts whining and complaining, be sure that it’s because something is not going according to our usual plan.
It’s easy to become demotivated, with the usual routine gone, there is no need to hurry in the morning to get up and ready by 8.30 am. Although having a routine and sticking to it is the best thing you can do for a child with autism.
The first thing that we did was to create new visual schedules. Sebastian can read, so we have calendars and write daily and weekly plans. If a child is not reading yet, then a visual schedule with pictures or symbols is the best option. Board Maker is an online resource to create visual supports, and you can try it out for a month for free.
We created new special days
Before the lockdown, each day of the week was different. Some days the kids had PE in school, other days we had piano lessons, occasionally as a treat, we would go to the local cafe – each day we did something different.
Now, however, days are rolling into each other and feel the same. Every night Sebastian asks me “Mum, what are we doing tomorrow?” I am tempted to answer “the same as today my love”, but I quickly come up with something, even if it is “we’ll do some baking” to make the next day seem special and a little different.
After a while, we decided to have a weekly schedule, just as we did before. This way, we have something to look forward to, without having to come up with new things to do every day.
We do simple things like taking a long walk on Mondays, virtual piano class on Tuesdays, pizza on Wednesday, family movie on Thursday etc. We created a new weekly routine that gives structure to our days.
We are flexible
I’m going to contradict myself here! I’ve just spoken at length about how important structure is and how crucial it is to stick to your routine… but it’s ok to change plans too!
Some days, for whatever reason, my children can have a hard time. Sometimes it’s small things, like not being able to go to the shops. At other times they may have bigger worries, such as not being able to see their grandparents, or being fearful about this mysterious virus. This situation is hard for all of us. We need to look after our physical and mental health, and the same applies to children. I am more flexible with the kids when I see that they are having a bad day. On those days, we talk about how we are feeling and look for something that will make us feel better. We might make a cup of hot chocolate, cuddle up under a big blanket, and watch a funny movie.
The nice weather and the longer days will hopefully make lockdown more manageable with children from now on. What have you done to support children with autism during this time? I’d love to hear from you!