Educating and Entertaining a Child with Autism During School Closure
The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but it is even more difficult on those with autism and the parents or caregivers that take care of these children. The total disruption of the daily schedule and the loss of therapies that these children would normally receive if they were still going to school in person has turned their worlds upside down. So, as a parent of a child on the spectrum, how can you entertain a child with autism and provide an ideal learning environment for him/her at this time?
The following suggestions may help until school and special services are restored. At the very least, it will provide some semblance of a routine. That is what is most important.
Create a Space That Is Quiet, Therapeutic, and Just for This Child
You may have other children at home right now who have to do distance learning. Hopefully they are able to participate in virtual classes without much help as your child with autism is going to need most of your attention. To help him/her keep up with school, you need a separate area just for him/her away from the noise of the other kids.
Once you have established a quiet area for schooling for your autistic child, you can add some things to it to make it a therapeutic area as well. This includes a table and a few chairs for studying, a tent or covered, dark space to retreat as needed, some type of swing for sensory motion, and a few fidgets or sensory toys you know your child loves. This can also be the space where your child is able to receive achievement therapy services or in-home ABA therapy. Since it already contains some of the items the therapist would use with your child, it makes it the ideal nook for your child with autism.
A Tablet for Communication, Schoolwork, and Play
Most kids on the spectrum respond well to technology. It is that lack of human faces and human interaction that makes it easy for them to connect through these devices. If your child already uses a tablet for communication, then he/she can use it for schoolwork and play too.
Have some games and a few favorite apps or full-length videos loaded onto the tablet. After your child has completed one or more assignments for school, he/she can have the option of playing a game for a few minutes or watching a video. If he/she has completed all expected schoolwork for the day, he/she can watch a full-length favorite video as a reward. It not only keeps him/her entertained, but also sets the expectation for completing schoolwork in a timely fashion.
Look into Increasing ABA Therapy
With the lack of adequate services not being provided by your child’s school district, you might consider more ABA therapy. ABA therapists understand that your child needs more consistency and more regular therapy when he/she is cut off from these services. You may need to check with your health insurance to make sure that the insurance accepted ABA therapy your child already receives can be increased under the current circumstances. If it is allowed, see if your therapist can come to the house more frequently to have that routine and rhythm set up for your child.
Strict Structure With a Little Wiggle Room
Kids on the spectrum thrive on predictability, structure and routine. If you have to, write out a schedule for every day of the week. Show your child (either in words or pictures, depending on his/her level of verbal skills) what the daily schedule is. Do your best not to waiver from the daily schedule. It will make everything in your child’s learning space flow more easily.
While strict structure helps, you should be able to see when your child needs you to provide a little flexibility. This bit of wiggle room puts small breaks in your child’s day when he/she is unable to continue schoolwork or just really needs some quiet time. Being mindful and watchful helps you see exactly those moments when a break is needed so that a meltdown doesn’t occur. If you can, create a way for your child to ask for breaks, and then praise him/her for asking for a break.
A Time for Stimuli, a Time for Quiet
All kids on the spectrum respond to stimuli differently. If you are already working in a very quiet space, your child may need some sort of noise stimuli or other sensory input during the school day. It could be something as simple as white noise or a whirring spinner fidget. It could be as loud as music playing and getting up to dance. You have the opportunity to learn what works best with your child now, and knowing exactly when these stimuli are appropriate to use with your child.
While it may seem like noise to you, it’s actually entertaining to your child. Some type of movement feels good to him/her. Some sounds are wonderful such that he/she wants to repeat them. Some colors or sights are entertaining and a delight.
During breaks from educating your child, pick the things that he/she finds most amusing and roll with those until the break is over or your child loses interest. If he/she also seems as though he/she is becoming over-stimulated, stop. It’s better to stop before it becomes too much than keep going and lose out on any work time you would need the rest of the day.
You’re Not a Teacher or Therapist, but You Can Help
A lot of parents have recently found themselves thrust into the roles of teachers, but for parents with special needs children it also means that you are suddenly a “therapist” too. The burden can be overwhelming since you are not trained to do either role. This is where your child’s ABA therapist comes in because the ABA therapy typically involves teaching you how to do certain activities and techniques to engage your child and help him/her learn more positive behaviors.
While it’s true that you are not a teacher or therapist, you are a member of the therapy team right now. You can help, and you do have a role. Your ABA therapist will share with you what that role is and how you can be successful at it.