Home Together: Navigating COVID-19 and Disrupted Routines With Your ASD Child

Even as households worldwide self-isolate to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, we’re the furthest thing from isolated when it comes to what we’re experiencing—starting from the shared stress and concern we’re feeling amid such significant upheaval and uncertainty.

Navigating COVID-19 and Disrupted Routines With Your ASD ChildFor families with a child on the autism spectrum, these times can be uniquely concerning. Disruption to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) kids’ structure and routine can be deeply unsettling, triggering behavioral changes and making the new normal all the more challenging for themselves and their families around them.

But while this unprecedented time brings its own set of trials, it also offers families with ASD children new opportunities—especially to simplify our routines, reconnect with our loved ones, and deepen our bonds. To make the most of these opportunities, families with ASD children should establish new, manageable routines that facilitate structure, healthy functioning, learning, and crucially—fun.

Here are some tips for helping parents navigate the change successfully.

1.Find comfort in keeping your current activities

During these times, adhering to a routine that works for parents and kids alike is essential and mutually beneficial. Try to keep your child’s previous routine as much as possible, as this will help your child manage changes in this new reality. Visual tools like colorful charts filled out with the day’s schedule can be vital in reinforcing a sense of control.

Charts will help your child “see” the time to:

  • Wake up
  • Eat breakfast
  • Brush teeth
  • Get dressed
  • Do our chores
  • Play and move our bodies
  • Eat lunch
  • Quiet time
  • Play and move with mom or dad
  • Visit a friend (virtually)
  • Eat dinner
  • Take a bath
  • Brush teeth
  • Bedtime reading
  • Go to sleep

Children with ASD are likely to respond positively to the certainty this creates, and it will help them understand at what points of the day they can expect to learn and play, and at what points their parents will be focusing on other matters such as work.

2. Create new spaces and routines

There’s no denying that these are challenging times—and that will mean new routines and structures. Giving your child a “new” activity can empower him/her to learn a new skill and find comfort in it.

Some ideas for “new” activities:

  • Feed the dog/cat
  • Put the silverware on the table before meals
  • Laundry “match the socks”
  • Draw or color “picture of the day”
  • Bounce a ball back and forth outside
  • Draw a picture with sidewalk chalk
  • Find all the “blue” (or red or yellow) things on a walk around the block

This will require creative thinking and perhaps some trial-and-error, but this is where you’ll create new activities, new memories, and provide your child with autism valuable opportunities to learn, grow, and develop new skills.

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3. “We’re being flexible”

Sheltering at home is enough to make anyone go stir-crazy, which is why it’s all the more important to celebrate you and your child’s success in navigating changes.

Some ideas for celebrating success:

  • “Visit” a friend or a family member virtually. Seeing this important person can be really encouraging for your child.
  • Have a virtual meal with your child’s friend or family member. Allow your child to even set the silverware in front of the screen for his/her guest.
  • Point out to your child and thank him/her when he/she is being “flexible.” Your praise is such positive reinforcement for him/her!
  • Allow your child choices when you can. If he/she can choose the book or the video or the “I-Spy” color, it helps to engage him/her in new activities.

Your child will learn that even amid major change, there can be comfort and joy. For families with autism—and for everyone else making their way through the age of coronavirus—that’s a lesson well-worth learning.

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.


Colleen Kraft

Colleen A. Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAP, is the Senior Medical Director for Clinical Adoption at Cognoa, a digital medical device company designing products to address the unmet developmental and behavioral health needs of children. Dr. Kraft serves as the 2018 President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her background includes work in primary care pediatrics, pediatric education, and health care financing. Dr. Kraft received her undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech, her M.D. from Virginia Commonwealth University, and her MBA from the University of Cincinnati. She completed her residency in Pediatrics at Virginia Commonwealth University. Through her work, Dr. Kraft’s goals are to promote the optimal physical, developmental, and psychosocial health of all children, and to support those adults and professionals who care for all children.

  • Avatar Steve says:

    Great advice! Thank you

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