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Bright Futures

Support for the Arizona Autism Community During COVID-19

May 11, 2020
Support for the Arizona Autism Community During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered our lives, disrupting routines, interactions, and environments. The result has been direct, ongoing changes in our daily learning, work, play, and socialization.

Individuals with autism often rely on a sense of structure even more heavily during such times. With sudden changes in lifestyle, including social distancing and shelter in place, familiar routines have changed quickly. The closure of workplaces, schools, community centers, and therapy centers, have made many services for people with autism and their families less accessible or inaccessible.

For all of us, widespread changes in our daily routines can feel challenging in many ways. Situational stressors have increased on an individual and population level. But these changes in routine may seem even more overwhelming to people with autism, who may need extra attention and individualized support during this time.

Quite understandably in the current circumstances, people with autism may experience increased anxiety which, in some individuals, may be manifested in disruptive or aggressive behavior. Families and loved ones may also find it challenging to manage this increase in stress brought about by changes in routines and suspension of intervention services.

SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge) recently surveyed 8000 parents of children with autism. Nearly 98% of respondents reported that their schools were closed, and 63% reported that their children are missing therapies, and only about 42% of respondents felt that their children could understand information about COVID-19, therefore impeding their understanding of why their routine has changed so dramatically. Over 90% of respondents reported worsened behavioral, mood, and anxiety symptoms.

How do we help reduce patient/family anxiety and increase practical support during this time?

  1. How do parents talk to their children about the Covid-19 without increasing anxiety?
    1. Children do best with fact-based information. Answer their questions directly, at a level that is appropriate for their cognitive and emotional level of development. Watching the news can be overwhelming and confusing, and often has inaccurate and conflicting information.
  2. What can parents do at home that would be helpful?
    1. Structure and routine are very important, and provide children with a sense of increased certainty and control. Adhere to a set bedtime and wake up time. This is especially important for teenagers, as they naturally tend to shift to a later bedtime and awakening time. Create a schedule for mealtimes, school activities and recreational activities. Try to designate specific areas of the house for work and other areas for fun or play. Electronics can be a reward after work is finished.
    2. Physical activity is a cornerstone of mental health. It is also very important for good sleep. Try to keep active and include exercise in the daily schedule.
    3. Model problem-solving and healthy, active coping skills. Help the child look for “proof” and “evidence” to evaluate their anxieties and the likelihood of worst-case outcomes. For example: Are we following the rules for safety? If so, there is no proof we are in danger. Therefore, I’m going to change the channel in my mind to think about what fun activity I’m going to do today.

There are resources both nationally and locally for children and families affected by autism. These include: Autism Speaks, Autism Society and Autism Science Foundation.

Phoenix Area COVID-19 Community Resources

Additional important Information to Know:

We are all in this together, so we must be ready to reach out to those we know who may need extra help and support during this time. If you have any questions, please call our Autism Clinic at 602-933-2327.

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