Changes in routine

Advice for parents and carers of children with autistic spectrum disorder and learning disabilities

Last published 22 December 2020

We are all having to change the way we do things because of coronavirus (COVID-19) and adjust to many stresses.

If you’re looking after a child or young person with an autistic spectrum condition and/or a learning disability, the changes in routine due to increased hand washing, social distancing and disruption to school life may create additional stress.

We hope you find the advice below useful for your family. You can find details of the current COVID-19 guidance on the UK Government website.

How to explain what is happening

There are lots of resources available to help you talk to your child about coronavirus. We’ve put together some general tips for parents and carers and you might also find the following links useful:

How to manage disruption to routine

Many children and young people are experiencing disruption to their school routine. Even if your child can still attend school, they might be taught at a different site or by unfamiliar teachers. Having a new school routine may be confusing and challenging for your child. To help with this:

  • Ask their school to provide photos of the new environment and staff so that you can prepare them as much as you can
  • Get a copy of the revised timetable so you can talk your child through it – pictures of activities will be helpful here
  • Stay in touch with staff via video chat so that your child can see who will be looking after them
  • Give your child their favourite toy or blanket to take to school
  • Create a routine at home, with times to eat, play, exercise, learn and sleep – again, a visual timetable might be beneficial

How to cope with changes to your child’s food

Unfortunately, you might not be able to get hold of your child’s favourite food or preferred brand at the moment. Here are some tips to manage this:

  • Explain to your child why this has happened and that the situation will not last forever as the supermarkets will deliver more food
  • If possible, give them the choice of other things that you know they like to eat
  • Say that they can play their favourite game or watch a programme they enjoy if they try a new food
  • If your child only eats foods of a certain colour or texture, try providing different foods with similar characteristics – you can get helpful ideas about this on The Girl With The Curly Hair Facebook page

How to support your child with social distancing and self-isolation

Some children will really miss their friends and other people they see regularly. Others, such as some children on the autistic spectrum, may find it a relief. You might find it useful to:

  • Structure your child’s day so there is some time set aside to connect with other people, even if it’s not face-to-face
  • Connect to others using technology, such as Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime
  • Get them to play online games with their friends
  • Talk to other parents who might be having the same experience – if you don’t know anyone, you could join an online support group or contact a helpline, such as The Challenging Behaviour Foundation or the National Autistic Society.
  • Take time to look after yourself and connect with your friends too via email, text, phone and video chat – it’s important to know that you’re not alone

How to stay positive

Good things often come out of difficult situations so try to stay positive. For example, this could be a time to:

  • Discover opportunities to support your child to try new things
  • Become more structured at home
  • Connect more frequently with others (virtually) than you would have done in person
  • Discover new forms of help
  • Gain confidence in talking to your child about difficult things
  • Make sure you look after your own needs as well as your child’s

If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, sad or having trouble sleeping, find out how Good Thinking can support you by recommending NHS-approved apps. Listen to our podcasts with Michael Farquhar (sleep), Janet Wingrove (mindfulness), Annie Mullins OBE (online communities) and Paula Ludley (supporting the whole family).

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