Here are a few ideas on how you can help your child build his/her social skills within the home as COVID-19 continues.
We are now living in the time of COVID-19, where life is unpredictable and expectations change from week to week. For children with autism, these spontaneous and abrupt changes to daily life are difficult. Trying to explain to your child why there is no school, why they do not have therapy and why services are online can be confusing. Adding to the confusion is explaining the concept of social distancing; why your child cannot see their therapists, teachers and peers in person.
Since many children with autism have difficulties with communication and socialization, isolation during COVID hinders their social development. That is why it is extremely important to come up with alternative ways for your child to socialize.
Discovering new ways for your child to interact with others will take a lot of patience, creativity, resourcefulness and positivity. Your mindset and social interaction with your child will affect the way in which he or she engages with you.
Children with autism feel the nonverbal anxiety and stress of the world around them much more intensely than you do, so when you are interacting with your child it is important to stay calm and positive. A positive mindset will lead to positive social interactions with your child, and your child will learn that socialization is enjoyable.
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Here are five ways to help socialize your child during COVID-19
2. Become social
- You can’t expect your child to be social if you are not social. Now is the time to get out of your comfort zone and reach out to neighbors who have children or the parents of the peers in your child’s classroom. Be creative and set up virtual playdates, social-distancing playdates, or even make a craft and leave it on the doorstep
3. Play games
- Take time throughout the day to teach your child how to play simple games that promote the concept of turn-taking and following simple rules. How do children socialize? They socialize through play. So, while your child is at home, it is a perfect time to teach the concept of playing games in a 1:1 setting
- When teaching turn-taking, start with games that have simple rules and games that promote the “My Turn/Your Turn” concept. You can start by doing puzzles and taking turns putting puzzle pieces together. You can also print out coloring pages and take turns coloring
- Some simple turn-taking games you can buy include Don’t Break the Ice, Honey Bee Tree, Memory, and any matching game
- Fun physical games are Freeze Dance or Red Light Green Light, in which you can pair a visual with a physical activity. For example, holding up a green piece of paper means start dancing, jumping, running, etc., and holding up a red piece of paper means stop. Once your child enjoys playing simple games you can begin to teach games with more complex rules such as Candy Land, Hide-and-Seek, UNO, and Simon Says
3. Virtually connect with others
- Schedule virtual playdates with peers in your child’s class a few days a week. If you find your child has difficulty attending, start off with a five-minute playdate and slowly increase the time. Also, encourage your child to play a game that he/she is familiar with that they have played with you in a 1:1 setting. You can play physical games such as Freeze Dance and Red Light Green Light. More advanced games to play are Hangman and Charades. Keep in mind that you will have to facilitate the virtual playdate until your child has the skills to engage independently
4. Plan social-distancing playdates
- Plan a social distancing playdate at least once a week with neighbors, peers from your child’s class or family members. During this time, do physical activities such as riding bikes, hiking, or playing games in your backyard. Now is the time to be as creative as possible. This will allow your child to be out in nature and get some fresh air as well as learn the concept of how to interact with their peers while socially distancing
5.Use your resources
- Remember you are not alone. Reach out to therapists and teachers to see what resources they can offer you to help with socialization
Keeping in mind all that is going on in the world today, it is important to not be too hard on yourself. You are doing the best you can, and your child will be just fine. Just incorporating one out of the five tips listed above will help your child socially. Most importantly, your children are depending on you as the parent to provide some normalcy in their lives. The best way to teach socialization to your child is to remain calm and encourage positive social interactions multiple times a day. Socialization begins with you!
This article was featured in Issue 121 – Autism Awareness Month