COVID-19 has thrown the world through a loop, and it’s hard to know when the rollercoaster will stop to let people off. Routines are up in the air, people are operating in close quarters, and the future is uncertain.
Usually, chaos is not a preferable state to operate in when you have ASD. Many adults with autism rely on solid routines in order to feel safe, stable, and in control of their own lives. Stay-at-home orders, change in outdoor activities, food shopping adjustments, incorporating masks in everyday situations, constantly changing information, and family stress can shake those routines up.
So, if you’re a person with autism or a caregiver for someone with autism, what do you do now? This post provides tips and guidelines to support people with extra anxiety due to COVID-19.
Nothing About Me Without Me
We’re starting here because it’s the most important element to remember when caring for anyone at all. When someone is non-verbal or they have sensory processing challenges that lead to everyday actions taking a little longer, it’s easy for neurotypical people to try to take charge.
If you’re a person without an intellectual or developmental disability, it’s always good to put yourself in the shoes of a person who does. Imagine what it would be like if you had someone else dictating your every move. Everyone deserves to live a life filled with as much independence as humanly possible. The statement “Nothing about me without me” makes it easy to remember this.
Create a New Routine
When a person has autism, they usually have different perspectives on life to those without autism. It’s sometimes difficult for people who have autism to relate to some societal rules–said rules being fairly illogical at the best of times.
Routines provide cues and help people with ASD to know what is expected of them. When these go away, it can cause an extreme amount of anxiety. Starting with everyday elements like getting dressed, create a new routine by trying to stay as close to the old routine as possible.
Provide visual cues to better explain what’s going on. Picture cards and social stories can help a lot. To-do lists can give a person with autism the information they need to know what to expect for the day ahead. Here are some other ways to create structure:
- Create a visual calendar of the day and post it up every morning to show everything that will be happening, like lunch for example.
- Bring the therapy home. Sure, equine therapy could be a little tricky, but art, garden, and music therapy might be doable.
- If a person in your care goes to classes, clubs, or groups, try to bring it home. By creating the same reward systems, replicating charts and lists, providing opportunities to talk/mimicking support group activities, or weekly therapies at home, you can adapt regular routines.
- Set up video talks with friends and people whom the person in your care usually regularly interacts with. To give your person a heads up, print out or make digitally available a picture of the person they’ll be video chatting with.
- Break down everyday tasks, such as brushing teeth and washing clothes, into steps with photos or drawings.
- Break down individual tasks – from getting dressed to unloading the dishwasher – into a series of steps with photos.
Individuals with autism often thrive better with solid information and knowing exactly what the choices are in any given task. A clear daily visual calendar may help ease anxieties and empower a person with autism to go about their day. For further support, you could:
- Have a specified area with physical coping tools that have shown to help with anxiety and distress.
- Create a board with visual choices on it like listening to music, going outside, painting, and more.
- Create a worry jar for specific times of the day or situations that you know can be particularly stressful.
- Encourage scrapbook journaling as a place to track days and express worries and concerns.
Multiple studies show that exercise helps with stress, confidence, range of motion, and overall emotional wellbeing for everyone involved. Exercise can also bring a good sense of accomplishment and provide structure. Here are some ways to get moving:
- Incorporate a daily walk or outside jaunt
- Checkout online fitness classes and phone apps
- Set aside time to stretch
- Take a run
- Play specific sports
- Train for the Special Olympics
- Play games like cornhole or bowling with tennis balls
Practice and Teach Self-Care
Because support services may have been canceled, you might be missing out on the break from caregiving that those services used to provide. Make your own self-care a priority, in whatever ways you can. Here are some “outside of the box” suggestions:
- Take five deep breaths a few times a day.
- Wake up a little early or go to bed a little late in order to get some alone time.
- Reach out to an online therapist or check to see if your current therapist is offering video sessions.
- Properly join in with music therapy, garden therapy, or art therapy.
- Call a friend who’s either a comedian, good at listening or both.
- Join online caregiver support groups or set up your own weekly or monthly video chat with other caregivers.
- Remember that this is temporary and you’re not alone.
You may have done some, all, or none of these but know someone who needs a boost. Please share this with other carers who need support and ideas.
About Stephen’s Place
If you have a loved one with developmental or intellectual disabilities, who is looking for a community to live in, please contact us for more information.
Stephen’s Place is a private-pay apartment community due to our state-of-the-art amenities and programs. We are a nonprofit and do not profit from our community. We are private pay because we spend more than some housing communities to ensure that our residents are comfortable and can safely live their lives with independence and dignity.