How to Navigate Uncertainty During Uncertain Times
For kids on the autism spectrum, order, structure and predictability help them make sense of a world beyond their control – and in the process, help them feel safe and secure. The sudden and seemingly out-of-nowhere onset of coronavirus has blindsided most people across the U.S., but very few more so than families navigating the already challenging complexities of caring for a child with autism.
While most people feel anxious and uncertain right now, this lack of stability easily escalates for children with autism, leading to emotional outbursts, tantrums and in some cases violent behaviors. Creating a foundation of order and steadiness can be very difficult for families, especially as they navigate additional schooling and childcare responsibilities during mass shutdowns.
As we all adjust to what will, at least for a while, be the new normal, one in 40 children will experience added challenges as a result of an autism spectrum disorder – that’s 1.5 million kids. Adults on the spectrum face added challenges too. There are 3.5 million people living with some form of autism in the U.S., and boys and men are four times as likely to fall on the spectrum.
April is Autism Awareness Month, and this year, the autism community faces more challenges than ever before. Here are five coping strategies to help parents and caregivers provide critical support for loved ones with autism spectrum disorder during this difficult time:
- Talk about what’s happening. Use age-appropriate language to discuss what is happening and why changes are important. For kids with autism, adding visuals with a social story can help boost their understanding and limit anxiety.
- Adapt the routine. Find ways to recreate the comforts of their old routine at home, sticking to a similar order, frequency and type of activities.
- Create structure and expectations. Kids with autism function best when they understand what is being asked of them, so set realistic daily expectations to implement structure and minimize anxiousness.
- Model patience. We can’t ask our kids to roll with it if we’re visibly anxious and frustrated by our own lack of control, so practice what you preach and find ways to channel your own inner calm.
- Prepare for more unpredictable things. Things are changing by the day, so expect more curve balls. Role play potential deviations from the routine, and while your child is calm and centered, practice coping mechanisms to help reduce stress when real anxiety unexpectedly skyrockets.
- Reward flexibility. Deviations from the routine don’t have to be a crisis. Make a point to introduce daily unknowns and celebrate flexibility with added attention and praise to reinforce the idea that change can be positive.
Living through a pandemic is concerning and overwhelming, and these feelings are felt exponentially by kids with autism spectrum disorder. Implementing these strategies can help kids and adults alike who are struggling to adjust – and help the people around them create a smoother, more manageable path through the uncertainty.