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Amidst all of the challenges that being in a pandemic brings, trying to replicate the routines that have been lost remains the top hurdle that many autism parents face. And it’s even more essential for your child, who may face additional challenges such as not keeping a mask on or having trouble staying motivated to learn remotely. On top of that, school will look different in the fall. My 4-year-old son’s school district is meeting next week to discuss possible scenarios, including e-learning a few days a week, smaller class sizes, and mandatory masks on the days they do go to school.

It’s all quite overwhelming for everyone. How do you manage a schedule and normalcy during this time for your child with autism?

My solution:

Here are six tips to keep consistency to your child’s day and help you alleviate some of the hurdles that you may be facing at home. Just remember one main takeaway while engaging in these routines with your child: tough times don’t last, tough people do!

  • Maintain a visual schedule. Start each day of the week by presenting today’s schedule on a white board. The scheduled activities set that day’s expectations and each activity can include a very simple image, the start time, and the activity to be done. My son loves looking at the picture and saying what it is. The white board schedule helps set the expectations for the day while also developing language and reading skills.
  • Sit down and draw. Art can be a very calming practice, as it allows your child a way to express themselves creatively. During the pandemic, we’ve developed quite the collection of paper, coloring supplies and stencils. Each day, sit down at a clean table and put out markers, pencils and stencils for your child to draw either independently or with assistance. My son loves crayon cases and will take each colored crayon out, attempt to read names, make a rainbow, use a shape stencil and color it in, or just freeform draw what comes to his mind.
  • Keep behavior on track. This can always be difficult, but an approach I’ve learned from ABA therapy is to ignore the crying or whiny behavior if it’s not warranted. Sometimes it takes a bad behavior and the events leading up to that particular action to figure out how to correct it. For example, my son will strike his brother when he is singing a song. So, every time he does that, I prompt him to use words such as “no sing” or “stop please” instead of resorting to hitting.
  • Talk with your kids. The one item my son struggles with most is receptive language. To help I engage him in dialogue when we are outside, on a car ride, or other appropriate situations. We love to play “I see” or “I spy.” He’ll say “I see a blue garbage truck.” I’ll respond with a color of an object that we can both see. There are many other opportunities to engage your child depending on the situation.
  • Go for a walk. Go for a walk with your child each day to practice safe words “stop and wait” when you reach the end of a block. This is a great way for them to learn these words and understand how to cross a street safely.
  • Practice wearing a mask. Each day, have your child practice wearing a mask for a period determined by a timer. Start with a short period and increment the time each day. So, if it’s 6 seconds one day, that’s great! Take it in strides. If your child can successfully leave it on until the timer goes off, give your child an incentive such as a favorite snack, iPad time, etc.

A combination of a visual schedule, academics, language, and outdoor activities, combined with occupational therapy, speech therapy, and Applied Behavioral therapy has helped us maintain some sanity and feel normal during these unprecedented times. It’s hard work, but the reward is beyond satisfying.

We can all do challenging things during this tough time. Just remember to take a break and take action. Any action.

Melissa Stachorek is a medical marketing copy writer and advocate mom for her 4-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum. Her passion comes from pushing for the services and education her son needs to learning the technical language used in IEPs, therapy reports and much more.