CORONAVIRUS: HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD
Support & advice from our Senior Occupational Therapist, Francis Bland
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP SUPPORT MY CHILD DURING THIS LONG PERIOD AT HOME?
We know it’s not easy for our youngsters with autism to cope with change and particularly it’s hard as a parent to know how to keep them occupied and calm whilst they are at home, especially when they have sensory regulation difficulties. So as an occupational therapist what do I suggest? Here are my thoughts:
Firstly it’s important that you as a parent remain calm; take a deep breath and take the time to gather your thoughts on what you need to do. You have to appear calm, even if your mind is trying to juggle endless thoughts about how to manage the changing situation e.g... What am I going to do with the children all day? What if they are not coping with the change? How do I manage their over active and deregulated behaviour when stuck indoors?
Breathe in – to a count of 3, pause, exhale – to a count of 3. You can do this!!
WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THE CHILDREN ALL DAY?
The answer is the same thing you do every other day; at least to start with, it will be more like a weekend day. Put in place some of the strategies you use when they are on a school holiday. I know this is not a holiday but it’s about thinking positively and trying to remain positive with your children.
If they have school work to do then plan it into your schedule but mix it up with lots of fun things and breaks in between.
The first things I would recommend are:
Take care of yourself.
If you can, get up before your children to collect your thoughts and plan your day.
Be calm; let everyone know that things are going to be okay. If you are anxious, your children will be anxious.
Be careful how much the children see on television and social media. This is very important to keep their anxiety down.
Try and make sure everyone eats well, exercises, and gets as much sleep as possible. I know this can be hard for some of our children!
Limit screen time. Most of our children can easily become fixated on computers and TV and find it hard to transition off it. The longer they get used to being on it the harder it will be for them to change their routine back when they later return to school. It also doesn’t feed their sensory system what it needs to stay calm and regulated when having to do other things.
Talk to your children. Explain what is happening in terms your children can understand. There is a sickness going around and the schools want you to stay home so you don’t get sick.
Keep it short and simple. For example: "Things might be a little different at the moment and I am going to need your help. We will do a little work and have a little fun throughout the day." Some of the social stories Sarah has already posted will help explain things for them.
Create a schedule, with input from your children if you can. (Include them as much as possible in the planning this will help them feel they have some control and buy into the new routine as well as reducing their anxiety.
Make the schedule visual (pictures or writing depending on your child). As much as you can, keep the same morning schedule you use for school, so that some things are familiar to your child. Use the schedule to develop a daily routine as much as possible.
Try to incorporate sensory activities throughout the day. Just because your children are home from school does not mean they cannot go outside to open spaces away from others or in the garden. Get them moving. Think: heavy work, pushing and pulling, swinging, and rocking. See below for specific sensory activities.
A sensory diet consists of activities used to gain and maintain appropriate arousal states throughout the day. There are ways in which you can support your child to remain at a “just right” level through simple activities through- out the day. You need to take the time with your child to work out which of these activities below works for them.
Use the blank schedule below to plan you and your child’s day.
Here are some activity ideas:
Deep Pressure input: Deep pressure input through the muscles, joints and skin are some of the safest and most effective organizing inputs.
E.g.: Wrapping in blankets; pillows to nestle into, lie under, wrestle and cuddle in, use a variety of sizes and textures; weighted blanket if you have one; your child may like to wedge themselves into a small safe space or large cardboard box with pillows; use of a gymnastic ball for parent to roll over the child whilst they lie on their tummy applying careful pressure up and down the body.
Heavy work: This is active pressure type input to the muscles and joints through pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, and “working"!
E.g.: Helping with chores at home such as:- Vacuuming, carrying the laundry, carrying any load, mowing the grass and digging in the garden; pushing the shopping trolley; stacking chairs, scrubbing/wiping tables/ washing windows or cars.
Other heavy work includes activities such as: push-ups or pushing against a wall; tug of war with a swim noodle or rolled up towel; climbing, resistance play; carrying a weighted back pack.
Heavy work in the hands: This is also an effective technique that can be used easily in multiple environments. This is characterized as "fidget and focus".
E.g.: Having access to one or preferable more small manipulative toys with which to simply "fidget"; playdough/therapy putty work; attaching a Pilates band to table leg to pull on as needed.
Sensory Bins: These are really simple ways to support young children’s hand and tactile development they are fun and can be very calming and regulation see following websites for ideas:
Just a good old bucket of dried rice can be really engaging and relaxing for a lot of children.
Oral motor inputs: These can be organizing when they engage the oral proprioceptors.
E.g.: Chewing on fruit leather, liquorice, pretzels, gum, or non-food items such as Chewllery; sucking through resistive, long, or "silly" straws for liquids or other play; blowing blow toys, bubbles, or cotton balls in play. Breathe work: facilitating breath through sucking and blowing activities; teaching how to take a deep breath as a means of stopping and calming.
Movement: Particularly movement that is rhythmic and in a linear manner is typically calming.
E.g.: Garden swings or indoor hammock; rocking chair, or rocking on an adults lap; use of gym ball lying on tummy and gently rocking.
Make an obstacle course in the garden with what you have at home; make zig zags with rope for them to walk along; roll a ball along; climbing and hopping/jumping games. Have them think of challenges they can do for themselves then see if they can beat their own score. Get them to record their results.
Vibration: This can be a powerful input to affect organization
E.g.: Vibrating pillows, electric massagers; electric toothbrush; making vibrating sounds, such as "mmmmm" ; feeling vibration of music from a speaker; many musical instruments, especially electric or mouth blown create vibration (harmonica, drum machine, etc.)
Music: This is typically a favourite calming input.
E.g.: Let music be a part of daily routine. Classical music can be very regulating and useful tool to use for calming down or helping a child focus doing school work.
With younger children have a bath song, a dressing song, a meal time song, etc. It helps with attention and sequencing, and can build independence - simply sing about activities as they are happening. Encourage active participation with a drum, shaker etc. listening to rhythm and quieting music of many varieties, such as environmental sounds, natural heart sounds, classical music, lullaby tapes, etc.,
Quiet time in a small place needs to be taught, valued and practiced as a life skill in every environment:
E.G.: Create a hideout or comfy place for each environment; make fidget and oral inputs and music available in this space; blankets and cushions; books for reading /music to listen to.
Use this time to teach a new skill; especial self-care skills– you can also incorporate math and reading into most of these:
Start with hygiene – especially washing their hands right now and the importance of it. Sneezing into a hankie or elbow. Who can make the most realistic sounding sneeze is a good contest. No more high fives or knuckles! Practice elbow bumps, toe waves, hand waves, head nods – who can come up with the most fun/creative way to say hi without touching each other.
Laundry: sorting, starting the washer/dryer, hang clothes on a (makeshift) clothesline, putting clothes away.
Dishes: emptying the dishwasher – or forget the dishwasher and wash the (unbreakable) dishes by hand.
Cooking: cooking simple items, like pretzels.
Any questions do contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah, myself and Stacy are on hand to offer any advice you may need. If you are struggling please do email us.
Stay well and keep smiling
Please download and use the attached chart to help plan your child’s day of activities.