Supporting children with additional support needs through coronavirus

Every family has had to make big changes to everyday life to cope through the stress and challenges of coronavirus. If your child has additional support needs, being away from your support network and normal routines like school might be even harder for them.

No two children are the same and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Additional Support for Learning (ASL) are no different. You know your child best. You know what they find challenging, what they struggle with the most, what they enjoy and what makes them smile. You will have developed your own ways of helping them with their relationships, to support them to express themselves and to communicate their feelings.

For some children the stress of being ready for school on time, travelling to school, sitting in the classroom and being with other children causes lots of anxiety. You might have had a happier child at home since lockdown was introduced. Or lockdown might be increasing your child’s sensory needs and creating new anxieties. There is no right way for your child to respond to the challenges we’re all facing. If you can stay calm, it will help them know they are safe. You can also call Parentline to talk about what might help you and your family.

The most important thing you can do for your child is to provide the love, care and security they need.

Here are some of the things families tell us have helped their child with ASD and ASL needs:

These enormous changes to our lives came without much warning. Daily routines have been flipped upside down. For children with ASD and ASL needs routine can be the foundation of their (and your) lives.

Finding a new routine can help get back some consistency. It can be challenging, so be kind to yourself if it doesn’t work right away. Be open to changing the routine until it works and involve your child in the decisions as much as you can.

The wellbeing of every member of your family is important. It can be difficult to juggle the needs of everyone in your home – you might have other children without ASD or ASL needs and a partner or other adults in the house. You also need to find time for yourself. Have conversations as a family. Be honest about how everyone feels, what’s working and what people would like to be better.

Communication is key. Try to help brothers or sisters understand what all the changes might feel like for their sibling and why that might mean they’re behaving differently at the moment. Let them know it’s OK to find it difficult. You can help your children keep in touch with friends and family outside your home too through phone calls, video calls or letters.

With everyone spending so much time at home it can be helpful to get outside in the fresh air, in your garden, on a walk or at your local park.

Sometimes people on the autism spectrum need quiet, away from other people. The Scottish Government has now said that everyone can go outside for exercise more than once a day, which is great for families but could mean places are busier. If your child is happy to you could try going out at different times of day, to find out when it’s quietest.

Some families have told us that their child with autism is becoming more anxious about spending time outside because they are frightened about getting sick. Try to encourage them gently and remind them there are ways to keep safe, like washing hands. Parentline can also support you with advice to help your child.

Talking to your child about what is happening is good, but it can be helpful to limit how much they hear on the news and social media.

News channels don’t present information in a way that’s easy for children to understand. This can feel scary and overwhelming for a child to listen to. For children with a very literal understanding of the world it can be even more frightening.

You might find you benefit from taking a break from the news too!

Children have questions and a desire to understand. Try to answer their questions as truthfully and simply as you can. Your child will want to know why their world looks and feels so different.

Children with ASD will often take your words literally and like things to be in black and white. Try to think of simple, clear answers, rather than talking about what might happen. Your child may have questions for you that you don’t have the answer to. Just be honest and tell them you don’t know.

If you or a family member are unwell reassure your child that you are following advice from the doctors so that you or they can get well again.

The coronavirus pandemic can make us all feel stressed and scared. You might be trying not to share your own worries and anxieties with your child, but you should make sure you have someone else to talk to. It can be helpful to set up regular calls with a friend or family member, to check in with each other and talk about how you’re coping.

You can also talk to Parentline, over the phone and through webchat. We’re here for you seven days a week, to give you the space and time to think things through. Parentline understands the additional challenges a child with ASD or ASL needs might be facing and can offer support and advice to help your family cope through coronavirus.