Advice and tips for parents of children with Autism

15 April 2020, Doha, Qatar – With schools closed and the guidance to work from home and maintaining social distancing in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, many parents find themselves struggling while confined at home with their children.

Dr. Fatima Janjua, Division Chief of Developmental Pediatrics at Sidra Medicine said: “Staying at home for days on end can be challenging at the best of times, but it is harder for parents of young children. The need to keep children entertained while juggling working from home and household chores can leave parents exhausted and stressed, with little time for themselves individually or as a couple. For parents of children and young people with Autism, the situation can be even more complex.”

The Developmental Pediatrics department at Sidra Medicine, a member of Qatar Foundation, advises parents to create new routines and consider family-based social and sensory activities for children with Autism.

“We recommend that parents try to stay calm when talking to their children or guiding them through their schedule. Even children with communication needs may pick up on your tone of voice or levels of stress. Where possible, take turns as a parent or a close relative in child care. In these intense and confined situations, each adult will need some self-care time to relax with a favorite activity or book, or just to rest. This in turn will have a more positive impact in their interaction with their children,” continued Dr. Janjua.

Tips for families with one or more children with Autism:

  1. Make a new routine:
  • Try to develop a modified version of your child’s typical nursery or school routine that can be adapted to the home environment. The routine might also involve other siblings if appropriate, or they may get together at some points in the day, such as meal times, breaks or for physical activities.
  • Create a visual schedule of how daily activities will be sequenced. For example, days for school work and weekends can be clearly marked with different colors. This may help children to predict what to expect day by day and is particularly helpful for children with communication needs.
  • If possible, set up a corner of a room as a school space. Involve your child/children in organizing this corner - provided you remain in control of what should and should not be allowed.
  • Allow plenty of breaks for physical exercise and short periods of self-chosen activities in between others that require compliance and concentration from the child. Again, if the sequence is visually displayed, compliance and your child’s engagement will be much easier to achieve.
  1. Engage in family-based social and sensory activities
  • Family-based social activities are a fun way to engage the whole family. If you have a small garden or open space, try to set up physical activities or treasure hunts inside the house or in the garden; play “I Spy” while you walk outside or go for bike ride, if safe.
  • For very young children, sensory activities are a fun and relaxing way to keep them entertained. For example, playing with sand, water, play dough, dried beans or Lego.
  1. Check out online resources:
  • A lot of support services and institutions have moved online. Visit credible sites such as www.autism.org.uk; autismspeaks.org; sensorysouk.com; affirm.fpg.unc.edu; for tips and guidance.

For the Arabic press release, please click here.

For guidelines on how to talk to your children about COVID-19, please review Sidra Medicine’s recommendations here.

For general guidelines related to COVID-19, Sidra Medicine recommends following Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health website or calling the hotline 16000.

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