JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - April is Autism Awareness Month and parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder are facing challenges with managing behavior, social skills, and education, due to the coronavirus.
Since Arkansas schools are officially cancelled for the rest of the school year, parents of children with autism are learning how to help their kids adjust to new schedules, online school, a lack of social interaction, and a possible lack of access to therapists.
“Having a really dramatic effect in the sense that we usually give children with autism a countdown, meaning that we can say it’s going to be three weeks before summer break, two weeks, one week but there was no countdown to this sudden change," said Dr. Annette Nunez.
It is estimated that 1 in 59 children, over 1.2 million, have an autism spectrum disorder.
Dr. Nunez has been working with children with ASD and other related disorders for over 22 years.
“A sudden change causes stress, anxiety, which then leads to meltdowns," said Nunez.
Which is stressful, and can cause anxiety for both children and parents.
Nunez recommends parents get their child on a schedule immediately.
“It will take about one or two weeks to work out the kinks, to discover a schedule that works for both parents and child," said Nunez.
She says to include things such as wake-up times, getting dressed, breakfast, lunch and the time that you end the day.
“Schedule in things like snack breaks and physical movement breaks, also bathroom breaks as well,” said Nunez.
Including physical activities is crucial.
“They need things like jumping, running, you can even have them do things like taking a laundry basket from room to room,” said Nunez. “That physical input helps organize their body. It prevents that behavioral outbursts that you may see.”
Dr. Nunez also recommends implementing “Fun Fridays.”
“If you do a certain amount of assignments, or if they have great behavior, then we get to celebrate by having a Fun Friday,” said Nunez. “This includes playing games, making cookies, watching your favorite videos, having a movie day.”
And when tensions get high...
“Write down positive statements on sticky tabs or note cards and place them on walls throughout your house," said Nunez. "Things like you got this, breathe, take a break, you’re the best parent, you’re doing awesome, things that calm them in a positive way.”
Dr. Nunez also recommends utilizing tools such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Groups to keep children connected with their classmates and peers.