With lockdown and travel restrictions being imposed in countries all around the world, no country is left unscathed from the devastation that is COVID-19.
While the effects of social distancing and lockdown are apparent and playing its toll, regardless whether you live with family or alone and with no clear end in sight, this lockdown is disrupting the mental health of many. But more so for autistic students.
Education and socialising is a difficult challenge, but made ever more challenging during lockdown and the disruptions of habits and routines that have been thrown out of the window.
Within this blog we will review lockdown and autism and the effects that it is having on pupils, but more importantly, how parents can combat this and work to assist their children during these challenging times.
Autistic children in education
There are estimated to be over 700,000 autistic children and adults within the UK. With autism causing a broad range of conditions including social skills, repetitive behaviours, These conditions caused by the disability can mean socialising and communicating with strangers can be challenging.
To combat the challenges that autism brings, many children find it beneficial to attend an autism friendly school. The attending of a special school that is aware of their individual needs and that cater to their disability, allows them to be fully nurtured and develop in a supportive environment.
Developing and blossoming their skills, the change in their education since lockdown has had an expected consequence on their mental health. From being cooped up at home, to the unexpected change in habits, this lifestyle change can affect and damage their education experience.
How does a specialist school differ from an ordinary school?
A special school is designed to offer a special education to those with a disability or with special needs. With a range of different types of special school available, each different type of school offers a setting best suited to educating children with their own individual requirements.
Through the use of specialist equipment, specialist trained teachers, all elements of the school are designed to help nurture and educate the children while allowing them to feel as comfortable as possible in this unknown environment.
One of the biggest advantages of a specialist school and that is, the higher staff ratio compared to that of mainstream schools. With more staff to pupils, all staff are specialists in their area and can help assist in the child’s learning and care needs.
With included speech therapists, specialist swimming teachers, to the addition of specialist resources and equipment including sensory rooms and therapy pools, autistic children’s benefit in many ways from attending a specialist school.
How Lockdown has affected autistic children?
The effects of lockdown during the previous month have been so detrimental to autistic children that from the 14th April, the lockdown rules have been relaxed for people with autism and other learning disabilities. These changes in restrictions allow people to leave their home more than the advised once a day to exercise and visit the shops for essential items, as long as they practice social distancing.
How is the lockdown affecting the mental health of autistic pupils? With the need for a clear and scheduled routine ahead of them, this change in their daily routine has shifted and altered life as they know it.
As routine, repetitive behaviours and activities keep on helping them to manage their disability, this disruption can create an unsettling feeling and much anxiety for the pupil.
This shift in routine can be more long lasting than originally thought. Instead of just affecting the pupil here and now, it is thought that the lockdown could affect the pupils’ education long into the future.
With autism charities warning that children with Autism will struggle to be able to return to schools when they re-commence at the beginning of September unless actions are taken to reeducate them and prepare them for the return to an educational environment.
This need for a routine is so important and vital in creating an effective learning environment, that without it, their confidence could be shattered.
This loss of a routine is detrimental for people who rely on this predictably to help manage daily life, regardless of how good learning materials are or the daily one to one lessons with teachers, this cannot substitute for their face to face interactions and the added benefits of adding school.
One particular concern by many autistic children, is not the sudden closure of their school and the need to recreate a routine, but the effect long term that the lockdown will have on both their education and studies.
Some autistic children have reported that they have not received contact from their school since they closed back in March. With individual needs, each school has an itinerary for that individual pupil so that they can develop and learn as best as possible. Without this regular communication, the development of the child can be stilted.
How to support autistic children during the COVID-19 lockdown?
When it comes to supporting your Autistic child during the lockdown period, the National Autistic Society has released some useful tips.
It has been suggested that to help support your child during these uncertain and unprecedented times, and that is to communicate regularly. With sources available to help autistic people, feel free to access such material to make sure that you are equipped to deal with any worries or uncertainties that you child may have. Regularly communicating is also recommended, this allows your child to freely communicate their feelings. This sharing of emotion is valuable and when in a safe and secure environment allows them to freely express themselves, vital in such times.
Along with supporting and communicating freely with your child at a time that they are comfortable with, it is also recommended that you create a separate, private study area. This study area of their own allows them to be able to go off and fully concentrate on the class at hand.
If you are struggling with how to deal and help your autistic child during the coronavirus outbreak, here are a few tips that you can follow to make this daunting experience as pain free as possible:
1. Attempt to fix the situation
When your child becomes distressed at the change within their routine, instead of trying to get them to calm down, try working to fix the situation. Discover which of the changes is affecting them the most. By trying to fix the current problem that is causing them the biggest harm, you can aim to create a happier and calmer child.
2. Teach yourself about sensory differences
A key part of their education when attending a specialist school and that is sensory education. Vital to helping to calm anxious children, by learning the basics behind sensory differences you can approach your child with a new wave of appreciation. This discovery of how they deal with new smells, sights and sounds could prove useful during these uncertain times and help you to calm them.
3. Create structure in your routine
Although the everyday routine of life post COVID-19 has gone out the window, you can still create a routine under lockdown. From beginning the day at the same time, going on a walk before and after school hours to a set allotted time in the evening to unwind to play or watch the TV. Create structure and a routine and help ease your child’s anxiety.
4. Speak to others
Whether you are reaching out to friends in a similar situation or speaking to autistic adults for extra insight, be sure to talk and communicate with others in these times of needs. When working to calm your child and their anxieties throughout lockdown, first it is recommended that you work on your mental state. Whether to calm your own worries or to gather added insight, to fully care and nurture for your child as they need, you need to be in a happy and confident state. By talking to others to discover how they are dealing with the ongoing lockdown, you can gain added insight, but also the required confirmation that you are doing a good job.
With routine an incredibly important element in the life of an autistic child, making sure that you are capable and able to support and care for your child during lockdown is a must. With the change and disruption to our routines affecting everyone of all ages and abilities, those with autism and learning disabilities are finding these times even tougher.
Not just affecting their current education and their ability to concentrate and learn, this disruption in their life and the effect of lockdown is believed to extend much further and could make their return to education even more difficult within the future.
By taking a few simple steps and being aware of the disruption that COVID-19 has caused, you could help work to calm and prevent any anxieties from bubbling up and raising in the future. We would love to hear from you and to discover if you have witnessed any changes that your autistic child is experiencing in their education, but also the steps you have taken to help make them feel comfortable during lockdown? We would love to hear from you and get a discussion going on how best to care for autistic pupils during COVID-19.