Coronavirus Tag Archive

How can parents help prepare their autistic children for school return?

Continual Uncertainty

As a population we are all feeling anxious as we cope with continual uncertainty. We are in fact experiencing a taste of life on the autism spectrum, where uncertainty and unpredictability rules the day, with all information vague and ambiguous. The two things neurotypical people now crave, just like our autistic population, are accurate information and certainty of outcome, two things which are in short supply. One benefit of the pandemic may be a deeper awareness of how it may feel to experience life on the autism spectrum!

We are in fact experiencing a taste of life on the autism spectrum, where uncertainty and unpredictability rules the day, with all information vague and ambiguous.

As we begin to prepare for a cautious and stepped return to another kind of normal life, we need to prepare our autistic children and adults for another change. This is problematic in itself because so little in our life is currently certain, every future step dependent on the subsequent response. Our young people crave predictability and certainty and in this fluid situation we are unable to give them exact dates and times.

Social Stories provide social information that inform and reassure, filling the gaps left by a different interpretation of the world. A Social Story can therefore reassure that although timings remain undefined, there is certainty that we, their loved ones or carers, will deliver information in good time before any change happens for them. This is important for them to know and important for us to do.

Return to school

It seems likely that a phased return to school will happen soon. There will be a lot of change to become familiar with. For our children all of these changes will need to be explained and described with concrete visual information and Social Stories, preferably before returning to school.

(A chapter on transition Social Stories, with an example of a school transition Social Story, is included in my book, ‘Successful Social Stories for School and College Students’.)

It is not all negative however. Lockdown has brought positive change too. Many of our families have discovered that the slower pace of a life lived more simply, with reduced social expectations has been a relief. As we return to school some positives may continue for our children. Instead of returning from the quiet sanctuary of home after a holiday break to a full classroom and assembly hall, they will be returning to a quieter, less social atmosphere, and importantly not to a full week’s timetable.

Children who found the proximity of other children in busy school corridors, noisy classrooms, crowded assemblies and playtimes may actually find social distancing much more comfortable. Once one-way systems in school corridors are understood, our children may prefer the reduced noise and likelihood of others bumping into them.

many of the changes the population will have to embrace in the future may make school and workplace more autism friendly, as well as safer for all!

During this time people have had to change their way of greeting others and it has become normal not to shake hands, or kiss both cheeks in the continental way, but instead just nod, smile or say hello. As we face a new normal and the potential return of Covid-19 in the future these greetings will continue to be recommended for safety. How helpful that they have always been more comfortable for our young people. It seems to me that many of the changes the population will have to embrace in the future may make school and workplace more autism friendly, as well as safer for all!

Visual Timetables

Once you have more information from school about your child’s return, make sure they know what days they will be in school and what days they will be at home on a visual timetable displayed at home. This can be very reassuring. On return to school, take a photo of the entrance and exit they will be using, and place these on the calendar along with the time they will be entering and leaving school each day. Knowing that there is an end to an experience is crucial information to those who have difficulty making predictions. These times are likely to be different to normal, and building familiarity as quickly as possible with the new routine will be helpful.

Always put on the timetable anything you can find out that will be the same as before. If you cannot find out much, don’t panic, you know your child will have, for example, their lunchbox with their usual food in, and maybe a snack too that they know and like. A photo of this can be placed on a timetable and be a positive, familiar anchor point in the structure of the day. The child will begin the day at home with a familiar breakfast activity then return home and do another familiar activity at the end of the day and a photo of these two activities can ‘frame’ the start and end to the day on the visual timetable.

Remember that some of the activities that were hard for your child before may not be happening. So it’s important that they know that Assembly, or Games, or P.E. may not happen. This may be reassuringly good news!

School is unlikely to be able to give details of everything your child will be doing, but they will be able to say who the child can turn to for information at school. Their usual LSA, who would know when to tell them of change, may not be available with the resourcing changes. If this is the case, telling the child who knows what is happening helps them know who to ask, and practicing the question at home, ‘Whats next?’ enables them to do this.

Understanding the words people are using

Many of us are now familiar with the new vocabulary that has emerged during the pandemic. It is important that our children understand these new words. Without understanding the context, they may assume a different meaning that may be quite inaccurate, and even more frightening than the reality. On return to school it is likely they will hear more of these words and therefore it is sensible for parents to ensure their child has a good understanding, explained in a positive reassuring way.

It is always a good idea to ask the child what they think the word means first, to uncover their perspective, before sharing your understanding of the word with them. Use Social Stories to do so if possible, adapting them for your unique child. Notice that in each Social Story included below I always try to mention that most people recover quickly from the virus and only a few have to go to hospital. It is easy to forget to emphasise this, but putting the situation into perspective is really essential.

Practicing at home.

Understanding the reason behind social distancing is crucial if it is to be adhered to, so once understood, model a safe social distance in a way that is meaningful for your child in a fun way.

  • For example, for a child interested in snakes identifying what snake would be 2m long could be his instantly recallable ‘long-snake’ social distance.
  • For a child that loves his bed, perhaps the distance from the head of the bed, where teddy sits, to the foot of the bed where giraffe sits. This distance can then be labelled with a name the child decides eg ‘teddy-giraffe distance’.
  • Use favourite toys eg teddy bear and place it on a marked spot and place another 2 metres away and have the teddies have a safety ‘lesson’ with the child as teacher.
  • Mark the sitting room floor or garden with cushions on the floor, 2m apart and practice sitting on them to read a story or watch TV.

The idea is to make social distancing another part of fun normal life and not scary!

Click the image above to download the pdf

Modelling and reinforcing the handwashing technique is crucial. Use the cocoa powder technique I first described in the earlier blog to refresh how well your child is currently doing in washing hands. Children are always touching their faces, and it will be almost impossible to stop them doing so, so effective handwashing really is important, and is a good habit to establish for a healthy life! Reward them when they remember to do it, and praise any improvement in technique. The more we all learn and practice this, the more automatic it will become. Effective handwashing can prevent a virus on the hands from entering the body and causing infection. This is so important as we all return to touch and use surfaces that have been touched by others.

Click the image above to download the pdf

One-way systems may be in place on return to school where previously there were two-way systems eg in corridors. Make sure they understand the term and demonstrate to your child using lego figures or toy cars how this works, or use figures from their special interest. If you have a garden, start up a one-way system, with home-made signs and move around it.

Click the image above to download the pdf

Face masks and visors may be more in evidence at school. These may be very scary to children on the autism spectrum. Describe what the term face mask means using a Social Story (link) It is important for them to be reassured the person is the same underneath when the face mask comes off. Showing how a visor made from a piece of see through plastic works and that you are still the same underneath may help. Play with other masks for fun in dressing up as favourite characters, just to make the idea less scary. Teddy or a favourite toy could wear a home-made mask or visor too?

Click the image above to download the pdf

By making what is unfamiliar familiar we can dispel fear and inaccurate assumptions. There is a great deal that parents can do to help their own children in the transition back to school, whenever it occurs, and preparation can start now.

Main photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash, additional image by Sean Thomas on Unsplash

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Learning to wash hands again, carefully

Adults teach young children the basic hygiene rules of washing hands from a very young age. We wash hands when they are dirty, before eating, and after using the toilet. We teach our children a reasonably thorough method that is likely to get general grubbiness and grime off, and on the whole with a few exceptions it is successful. Children and adults usually know how to wash their hands, but sometimes forget to do so.

In a pandemic this is not enough. We are all required to wash our hands in a more thorough way to eliminate any trace of virus in order to prevent infecting ourselves and passing it on to others. Viruses on our hands picked up from touching things transfer to our face and find their way into our body resulting in illness.  The problem is we cannot see a virus in the same way as we might notice a smidge of dirt left behind after a quick wash of a dirty hand.

Most of the information we have received tells us to wash our hands for a prolonged period of 20 seconds, singing a song to ourselves or counting to remind us to continue washing longer than we normally would. We tell our children to follow the 20 second rule and facilitate that for them by encouraging them to use their special interest to make it fun.

But the information we, and our autistic friends and family may be missing is how to wash to eliminate virus from all surfaces of our hands. A child or adult with autism may feel patronised when asked to wash their hands in a new way as they have already learned this skill as a young child. For those that are challenged by reading the implied context of the situation, information may be missing. We need to fill that information in so that the instruction makes sense.

We need to be cautious though, as an over emphasis on germs may stimulate an obsessive interest which could make life very difficult in months to come. We want to establish good effective handwashing at all times but extra careful handwashing at times when there is a dangerous infection about like at the moment.

I have found that providing visual concrete evidence to support the information I am sharing is always helpful. In a previous post I mentioned the ‘cocoa-virus technique’ using cocoa powder on the hands to demonstrate to a child/adult how viral particles can shed with a simple touch on household items and all over our faces. This can be used again to help with the technique of handwashing. An adult covers both hands all over with cocoa powder back and front, between fingers, up to the fingertips and around the base of both thumbs. Then they wash their hands like they normally do. Asking the child or adult to ‘spot’ any residues focusses their attention on missed places – the back of the hands, between the fingers etc. This is helpful work to do before reading the following Story, which provides useful information on why we need to learn to wash hands in a new more careful way and also the detailed steps required to do so.

We need to be cautious though, as an over emphasis on germs may stimulate an obsessive interest which could make life very difficult in months to come.

In the following Article I describe how after finishing handwashing it is important to use a paper towel or a clean tissue to turn off the tap. This is because the tap was turned on by a hand that may have had virus on it and virus may have transferred to the tap. If a clean hand is subsequently used to turn the tap off, the hand gets virus back onto it. Keep some clean tissues by the tap for this purpose alone. (to concretely explain this show how a ‘cocoa powdered hand’ will transfer brown dust onto a tap!)

Teach the technique carefully to everyone. Be aware that concentration on the task is required. Not everyone will be able to count or sing at the same time as paying attention to what they are doing. A timer may help here. Done carefully this technique will take over 20 seconds from start to finish.

Lets’ share this Story and make this new skill make sense for our young and old people on the autism spectrum!

To download our social article – learning to wash hands carefully, click the image below. This should allow you to download our pdf.

Main photo courtesy of the Centre for Disease Control, via unsplash.com

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A few thoughts on Corona Virus.

Children are watching and listening to daily news reports and hearing frightening information. Everyone is rightly anxious at the moment but in our children this anxiety can spiral and become a huge problem. Adults are talking openly on the phone and to other family members in the home about the seriousness of the current escalating situation.

There are a few things we can do to reduce our risk of catching the virus and also to help our children cope. Overheard comments by adults can be reduced by choosing to talk about this subject away from the child in a quiet voice, being mindful that our children sometimes have exceptional hearing. Reducing the amount of information reaching the child unsupervised through TV, radio or online channels is only sensible.

Providing information in an accurate but reassuring way is extremely important and also updating it when things change, as they will, with as much preparation as possible will help. Social Stories can help here (see attached Story below).Remember to be as positive and reassuring as possible, recognizing that our children are less able to read the current context and may leap to even more terrifying conclusions than is the case.

Demonstrate to the child how viruses can spread to surfaces with just a touch of the hand. One way of doing this is to sprinkle cocoa powder on a plate and then place the palm and fingers of both hands in the powder. Then walk around the room touching the back of the chair, the table, the handle of a cup or a door. Touch your face briefly, wipe your chin. Brown cocoa prints will be everywhere. Explain the cocoa powder is like a virus and then demonstrate thorough washing of both hands how the brown powder is washed away.

Parents will need to help children learn how to wash hands thoroughly for a prolonged period of 20 seconds. Using the child’s special interest may help here. Choose a song that is special to the child, sing it with them until 20 seconds is up. Alternatively use their special interest to employ them in counting to 20 eg counting to 20 penguins. Wash all areas of the hands – between fingers, around the nails, covering the tips of the fingers to the wrists back and front. Leave no area not covered in soap and wash off with warm/hot water. Doing it thoroughly will take 20 seconds. Doing it twice will prevent any area being missed.

Place a photo of penguins/ whatever favourite character is being used or the song above the sink as a reminder, and of course praise your child when they manage it well, and reward them.

Learning About the Corona Virus

Dr. Siobhan Timmins

Most of the time people are healthy and feel well. Sometimes people become unwell because of a cold or flu. Colds and flu are caused by viruses. Colds and flu are caused by viruses. Viruses are very tiny germs that we cannot see because they are so small.

Most of the time peoples’ bodies get rid of a virus in a few days or weeks. While the body is getting rid of the virus sometimes people need to stay at home or in bed to rest. Soon they are back to normal again.

Corona virus is a new virus that makes people unwell. Because it is new lots of people all over the world have caught the virus. Most people who have corona virus may feel like they have a cold or flu. They may have a temperature and a cough. After a few weeks they will feel well again.

A very very small number of people who have corona virus may become very very very very unwell. They may need to go to hospital so the doctors and nurses can help them while their bodies try to get rid of the virus..

Because Corona virus is a new virus doctors and scientists are busy learning about it. They are trying to find ways to treat this virus. Scientists are also working hard to make vaccinations and shots to stop people from becoming unwell from the virus.

While we wait for the scientists and doctors to make a vaccine or find a things all adults and children can do to avoid catching it.

Viruses are usually caught by people touching something that has a virus on it and then touching their face. Sometimes people catch the virus by being close to someone who has sneezed or coughed.

Viruses are so small we cannot see them. It’s important for people to wash their hands often with soap and warm water. This gets rid of the virus and helps to keep us healthy.

I will try and wash my hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before I eat, after I use the toilet and when I come home from school, the park, shops or seeing friends. My Mum or Dad will show me how to wash my hands carefully. They will remind me when it is time to wash my hands. To get rid of any virus doctors say it is important to wash our hands for 20 seconds (20 Pokemon/penguins…) This takes as long a singing ………………….. (my favourite song) twice or counting to 20 penguins (or favourite character).

Sometimes to stop a virus from spreading doctors and scientists tell people to stay away from crowds or groups of people. Schools may close and children stay at home. Workplaces may close and mums and dads work from home. Shops, buses and trains may stop running too. This is okay. It helps to stop the virus and keep people healthy for when things are normal again. We can stay at home until it is safe to go back to school or work. Mum and Dad will have ideas to keep me busy and happy at home. Mum and Dad will be told when it is safe to return to school or work. This is okay. It helps to stop the virus and keep people healthy for when things are normal again.

I am learning about Corona Virus.

A simplified version of the Social Article above, for those whose who are younger, have a cognitive impairment or reduced attention span, is available as a Social Story here

Images taken from the original article by Carol Gray

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