By Rebecca Turley
Resources for Families with Kids on the Spectrum Stuck at Home During School Closures and Stay-at-Home Orders
In just a short period of time, COVID-19 forced millions of Americans to become stay-at-home parents and de facto homeschool teachers. Sweeping changes have been made to how our children learn and how they receive vital mental health and behavioral support services, and terms like remote instruction, distance learning, and telehealth services have now become part of our vernacular.
And while most families have settled into new routines, for families with children on the autism spectrum, new routines and schedules have the ability to not just disrupt but completely unravel the structure they’ve struggled to achieve. It’s a complicated and stressful time for both children with autism and the families who love them, and challenges seem to present themselves at every turn.
But the good news is that remote learning and telehealth services are nothing new, and everyone from school districts to ABA therapists are well-equipped to transition from in-person education and support services to a normal in which these same services are delivered remotely to everyone who needs them. They are working tirelessly to create dependable, online environments in which our children can continue to learn, grow, and thrive. Support is available, guidance is abundant, and encouragement is just a phone call or online chat away when the new normal feels anything but.
Life as we once knew it will eventually return, even if the way we do certain things will forever be influenced by the events we’re living through now. On the side, we will be wiser and more prepared than ever before, and we’ll be experts at online learning and telehealth, easily moving between in-person and remote services as the circumstances of the day require.
We’ve curated a collection of resources with ideas, advice, suggestions, and support from the most trusted names in autism to help your family navigate these unchartered waters, understand how the situation is affecting your child, and to help the whole family adjust to remote learning and therapy.
Learning About COVID-19
How do you explain COVID-19 to a child on the spectrum? These educational tools are designed to help you put COVID-19 into words (or pictures) they understand:
Project Echo offers printable and audio stories for kids and articles to help adults talk to kids about the coronavirus.
National Autism Association provides an illustrated social story about COVID-19.
Autism Speaks provides an illustrated social story about the flu and getting sick.
National Autism Society offers a printable handwashing social story.
Little Puddins offers an illustrated social story about the coronavirus.
Psychology Today provides a comprehensive resource to help parents explain a global health crisis to children with autism.
Sesame Street provides a resource to help parents explain COVID-19 to their children with autism.
Autism Research Institute offers a nice selection of webinars and social stories that cover topics related to hygiene, doctor’s visits, emotional support and strategies for coping during COVID-19.
Learning from Home
Disruptions to education and learning support services and the transition to home-based learning can wreak havoc on the educational goals of children with autism, and even cause a backward slide in their progress. The following resources feature advice and strategies for helping your child adapt to a new learning environment so they can continue making strides.
Understood For All offers a list of tips for gearing up for home learning.
Autism Speaks provides a guide for preparing for life following a school closure.
And Next Comes L offers free social stories that do a great job of helping you explain school closures to your child.
Stages Learning offers a free autism curriculum kit for helping your child with autism adapt to learning at home.
The Autism Helper has created a home school emergency kit—an eight-week curriculum guide for at-home learning.
The Autism Certification Center and Autism Speaks teamed up to offer ASD Strategies in Action – a resource that includes video-based tools designed to ensure families and service provides are equipped to effectively support and educate individuals on the autism spectrum – free of charge through June 1, 2020.
University of California Davis offers Autism Distance Education Parent Training (ADEPT), a ten-lesson, interactive, self-placed online learning module designed to arm parents with the tools they need to teach their child using ABA techniques.
Modifying Routines and Adapting to New Schedules
For most children on the autism spectrum, routine is vital. School closures and social distancing have caused a full-on interruption of any sense of normalcy, so it’s up to parents and caregivers to help children adapt to their new normal. The following resources will help you gently and effectively introduce and establish new routines to create the dependable environment they crave.
The Marcus Autism Center provides a step-by-step guide for establishing routines at home.
The Autism Society provides some helpful hints for modifying routines.
Autism Speaks provides a social story for helping your child deal with disrupted routines.
The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Frank Porter Graham Development Institute developed a packet entitled “Supporting Individuals through Uncertain Times” that includes tips and suggestions for dealing with upsets to daily schedules and routines.
Autism Speaks provides a printable visual support entitled “My Day at Home.”
Stress and Mental/Behavioral Health
A lack of access to resources and support services, little to no contact with friends, teachers, and family members, and major disruptions to schedules and routines… the things we’re all experiencing under the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are the very things that can create extreme stress for children with autism—many of whom often have difficulty expressing emotions of fear or anxiety. It’s important for parents to have an arsenal of coping and calming methods and strategies to effectively handle changes in behavior. The following resources will help you and your child navigate this stressful time:
The American Psychological Association provides advice for parents caring for children with disabilities during COVID-19.
Dr. Dan Coury of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Medical Director for the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network talks about receiving behavioral health services through telehealth delivery.
Autism Speaks provides a downloadable toolkit, entitled “Challenging Behaviors Tool Kit,” which is designed to provide parents and caregivers with strategies and resources for better understanding and responding to these behaviors.
Milestones Autism Resources provides tips for managing behaviors and continuing ABA therapy during COVID-19.
The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Frank Porter Graham Development Institute developed a packet entitled “Supporting Individuals through Uncertain Times” that includes support strategies for children with ASD during COVID-19.
State departments of education are repositories of up-to-the-minute changes to public education. More recently, they’ve become reliable sources of information regarding the transition to distance learning. Many state departments of education have already developed dedicated pages that are overflowing with valuable state-level and national resources that support distance learning:
Ongoing Support Services
The Autism Society launched a Facebook Live Coronavirus Information Series dedicated to providing current and topical information about COVID-19 and its effect on the autism community.
The Autism Research Institute offers free online webinars aimed at helping parents and caregivers support children with autism during COVID-19.
Autism Speaks’ Autism Response Team is staffed with team members who are there to share resources and support based on your needs. Support is available via phone, email, and live chat.
The Asperger/Autism Network offers free online chat groups and support groups for parents during COVID-19.
Rebecca is a full-time writer and editor with a BA in Journalism and Communications. Throughout her career she has contributed to high-profile websites and blogs related to education, healthcare and psychology.