How Do I Talk to My Child With Autism About Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Recently, the majority of news reports and conversations seem to be centered on coronavirus as it spreads around the world.

Autism Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Here are ten simple tips to consider when explaining coronavirus with your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) along with an excellent social story to foster understanding and help reduce anxiety.

1. Talk to Your Child

A lengthy and medical explanation is not always necessary when explaining the coronavirus to a child with autism. Since it is being heavily discussed, it is not unnatural for a child with autism to have questions. Simply explain that it is a new infectious disease and was unknown until an outbreak in China in Dec 2019.

2. schools Are Closing

Schools are a necessary part of a child’s daily routine. The closing of your child’s school can affect him/her in a multiple of ways. It will be vital that you address this situation with your child as behaviors as a sense of security can heighten when established daily routines radically change.

3. Look for Signs of Illness

It is crucial you educate yourself on the warning signs of this illness. Many of you may have children with autism who can verbalize when they are feeling ill. Others may have children on the spectrum who are non-verbal and are unable to communicate their needs. As a parent, you’ll need to watch for signs of

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Tiredness or
  • Difficulty breathing.

4. Grocery Stores

Grocery stores are an excellent place for your child with autism to practice social skills. However, your child may now sense a state of panic that may be occurring within these stores. They may wonder why aisles usually filled with water, toilet paper, or hand sanitizer are now empty. Preparing your child ahead of time by discussing these situations will assist him/her with dealing with them.

5. Change in Routine

Parents of children with autism often recognize the importance of routines for their children. However, trips to grandma at the senior citizen’s home, the closings of schools, and canceled travel plans may bring behavioral concerns to the surface. Discussing these changes in routine may help your child cope better with them.

6. Protective Practices

Modeling proactive protective practices can be a great way for your child to learn them. Demonstrate how to wash your hands. Have fun with this activity by singing songs such as “Happy Birthday” to demonstrate how long to wash your hands before stopping. Remind your child of the importance of handwashing after using the bathroom or eating. Show your child how to move at least three away from someone who is coughing or sneezing and how to sneeze into his/her own elbow.

7. Stress

With all the changes in established routines, your child with autism may begin to become overly anxious or stressed. He/she may panic if another child is coughing or sneezing based upon a simple cold or allergies he/she is experiencing. Keeping the lines of communication open with your child may assist with reducing some of his/her concerns.

8. Staying Away from Sick Individuals

Explain to your child with autism that if one of his/her classmates, friends, or relatives become sick that he/she may not be able to see or be around them for several weeks. However, thanks to social media, cell phones, and the use of video conferencing like Zoom, your child can still maintain his/her social connections.

9. Supervision Plans

With the possible closings of schools, parents will need to be proactive with the supervision of their children at home. Some schools have closed for the rest of the school year or have been placing all classes online. If you are a working parent, you may need to seek in-home care for the supervision of your child with autism. This may involve hiring a babysitter or having a relative come to care for your child. Daycares may not be a possibility as they may end up closing as well.

10. Use Social Stories to explain about COVID-19

Social Stories are a terrific resource to use with your child with autism. Take a look at the one below to assist you with describing coronavirus and the changes that may need to take place. This social story can become part of your daily routine and help with reducing your child’s anxiety levels.

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coronavirus Social Story
How to Explain the Coronavirus to My Child With Autism

autism family  Mom and Dad explained the coronavirus to me.

virus spreads when sneezing and coughs Mom said it is a new virus that can be spread when someone sneezes or coughs.

cover cough and sneezes  Dad said it is important to always sneeze or cough into your elbow.

twenty second hand washing with soap  Mom and Dad also said it is important to wash your hands before you eat, and after you go to the restroom.

happy birthday song while washing hands They said I should wash my hands long enough to finish singing “Happy Birthday.”

I will try not to touch my face. stop touching your face

closed school  My parents told me that my school might be closing.


missing teachers and friends  I feel sad that I will miss my teacher and friends.

online teachers and friends  My parents told me not to worry because I can still see my teacher and friends online.

coronavirus symptoms  If I start to feel sick, I need to tell my parents.

fun things to do at home  If I must stay at home, my parents said I will do some “fun” things. I can play video games, watch movies, or bake some cookies.

safe autism family  I will listen carefully to my parents. I know they love me and want to see me stay healthy.

Photos licensed under CC BY-SA and  CC BY-NC-ND

If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing it on social media or linking to it from your website to help other parents. You may also want to check out our other resources on coping strategies for autism and COVID-19.

Ron Malcolm

Ron Malcolm

Dr. Ronald I. Malcolm is an Assistant Director of Special Education for a public school district, an Associate Faculty Member with the University of Phoenix, and a Special Graduate Faculty member at the University of Kansas. He has bachelor’s degrees in English and Special Education. He holds Master-level Degrees in Counseling, Special Education, and School Administration. His Doctorate Degree is from Northern Arizona University in Educational Leadership. His Post Graduate Degrees are in Positive Behavior Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorders. He has worked for the past 35 years with students between the ages of 3-21 with autism in various school and community-based settings.

  • Avatar Margaret Mayhew says:

    great ideas and social story…. I appreciate you sharing these valuable resources!

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