Positives and negatives living in lockdown with an autistic child

It has been a few weeks since the schools closed and parents have been at home 24/7 with their children. Some of them are praying to go back to normal because they face real challenges having to explain to their child: “why has the routine changed?” Some mothers discuss on social media that they feel their children are not willing to do any schoolwork at home and all they do is nonstop eating, or spending most days on the technologies. Surprisingly enough, there are mothers that feel the opposite to this. Some are delighted that their autistic children are showing huge progress over the last few weeks. While watching my own situation and my own child who is on the autism spectrum, and also after to talking to some of my friends in similar situations, I have some thoughts about pluses and minuses of staying at home. Many of us have questions about how is it going to affect our children long term.

Anxiety levels have dropped. Some mothers are delighted to share their excitement that their child is less anxious because he/she knows that he/she is not going outside their comfort zone, which primarily is their home. They don’t have to go to the busy places which normally cause a lot of frustration, meltdowns and sensory issues. Some mothers report that their child’s eating and sleeping have improved. Some mothers claim that their child started showing interest in things that he/she did not previously care about. I think this is great but…what is it going to be like when, after weeks or months being comfortable in their own bubble, we will have to go back to the new before?

The child is becoming too attached to the parents. Well…this is where I personally am at the moment. I constantly hear “MOM”. Even if I am two steps away, he keeps calling me in order to make sure that I am here. He checks on me no matter where I am. The only place where I am getting a few minutes of peace is in the shower. But…the other day when I was going to wash my hair, I could still hear my son saying to his dad that “he missed his mummy sooo much”… J I can forget about my personal space until this is over, but for some parents whose children were happy in their own world or for those who did not have so much time to spend with their loved ones because they were working full time (especially, in general, for the fathers) this could be a perfect chance to build a stronger bond between them and their children.

The child refuses to do schollwork at home. Autistic children like to associate emotions with things, places and situations. My son associates school with work. He is happy to learn there but trying to read, write or to do maths has been always difficult at home. I figured out that in this case I have to be creative, otherwise the regress will be significant. A few examples that have worked for me:

 Maths. He has loads of STAR WARS character figures. We line 10 of them on the table. I take 2 and put them on the pillow saying: “those 2 are tired and need some rest. 10 minus 2. How many are left?” After giving me the answer, he puts a few more on the pillow and counts again. Then I say: “Oh, look! 3 of them are awake!” So we move them back to the table. He is happy to count how many figures there are now. Sometimes we do the same with the car models when moving the cars to the pretend garage to get them serviced and then back again.

Reading and writing. At the moment, he is passionate about watching anything with NERF guns on YouTube.  One day I said to him that if he wants to watch it, he will have to type the words into the search box. First of all, he writes the word on the paper and then he types the letters on keyboard. Little by little we move from NERF to Spiderman, Hulk etc.

Parents are frustrated that they have to do more work with their special child at home. Whether we want it or not, from the moment we realise and accept that our child has special needs we naturally learn at least the basics of occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, nutrition etc. Now I hear many parents complaining that because of the pandemic they have to learn one extra profession – teacher. Oh yes, it is difficult… But here I have found something positive. It is very possible that you have or you will discover tools or strategies that work great with your daughter or son when teaching them at home. I would recommend to try and remember or even to write down anything useful you have discovered during the lockdown. You can share it with your child’s teacher when the schools are open again. This could be a really useful for the professional working with your child in the future.

Finally, it is a great experience for those parents who like to moan or complain that the teacher of their child is incompetent. I am sure now they will think again and realise how challenging and stressful this job can be, especially when working with children with ASD.

Sleeping habits have changed. There are only two ways: the quality of sleep has improved, or it has worsened. If it is the first scenario then HAPPY DAYS! The child is more rested and happier on the next day, and so are his parents. But even if the sleeping of your child has worsened during the lockdown weeks, it is not something that cannot be solved. I have a feeling that in most cases, the main reason is not enough body and brain activity during the day. In many cases, autistic children are called sensory children. Sensory processing disorder is often called a brother or sister of autism. In school, our children are used to regular movement breaks because the teachers know that their bodies need to be stimulated and regulated. If you are indoors, dance, jump, do excersises on the gym ball together with your child. If you are outside, bring him/her to a safe place and let them run, touch the ground, the sand, the trees and their leaves. Smell the flowers and the air. Pay attention to the sounds you hear around you. You will realise that this is good not just for your sensory child, but also for yourself.

Their speech has regressed. A lot of parents experience this matter during lockdown. Our autistic children get a lot of SLT activities in school and outside of school. In the current situation, you will have to deal with it yourselves. I have just recently seen a post on social media which recommends parents to just talk as they go about their daily activities, and narrate what they are doing. Seemingly, just while doing this the child will hear 1000-2000 words an hour! I know that talking and singing to yourself sounds like a crazy idea but I have to admit I do it myself. Yes, people say it is a first sign of madness but sometimes it can be very funny and entertaining.

I am sure there are many more things that were not mentioned here. One way or another, the current circumstances have definitely affected our special children. Each family and each autistic child will learn something new during this time. If we learn to enjoy the positive changes and if we try to turn negative aspects into pluses, it will all be ok in the long run.

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