Keeping your child with autism calm during quarantine

#SOESupportsYou in a time of need

A child stands in front of a weekly schedule on a chalkboard.
Having a visual schedule – such as a written checklist – can be an easy way for a person on the spectrum to understand what comes next. (Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels)

Emily Helmboldt, M.S., BCBA, LBA, LPC, is a technical assistance coordinator and faculty member with the Autism Center of Excellence at the Rehabilitation, Research and Training Center at VCU. She has a diverse background in rehabilitation, cognitive behavioral therapy, Autism Spectrum Disorder, behavior analysis, and positive behavioral supports. Like many of us, she is working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are her Top Five Tips for Keeping Your Child with Autism Calm and Busy during Quarantine.

1. Establish routines.

Our kids have had their normal routines majorly disrupted. Take this opportunity to build in structure even when there's down time. For example, the expectation could be to wake up at 8 a.m., complete a morning routine, have one hour of cartoon time or fun time, do a chore, and then eat lunch. Predictability reduces anxiety.

Headshot of Emily Helmboldt.
Emily Helmboldt

2. Create simple visuals.

Our children are mostly visual learners. Having a visual schedule (either pictures of activities or a written checklist) can be an easy way for a person on the spectrum to understand what comes next.

3. Use reinforcers.

What does your child like to do? What are their favorite TV shows or YouTube videos? Offer a choice of activities and enticing objects or a person's attention to work for.

4. Use a "first, then" approach.

When you need your child to complete a task or chore, show them "first" that they have to do the task. (Make sure they know how to do so; otherwise, you'll have to teach that, too.) Then allow them to pick out an activity or toy that they'd like to "earn" by completing the task.

5. Use interests to encourage independence.

Utilizing a favorite cartoon or social media character can be extremely useful to use as reinforcement. Prompt ahead of time so they know when it's going to happen.