As we enter the new year of 2021, people in numerous states across Malaysia are again faced with the reimplementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO). This reimplementation means that we have to realign our daily lives back to the restrictions, succumbing to home and activities within it. With all the changes and disruption to daily routines, this undoubtedly brings challenges especially to the autistic community, who usually have an inflexible adherence to routines. Being cooped up at home, not being able to meet people that they usually see are some of the challenges that can add on to the stress.

This is also tough for working parents, who would need to balance between working from home and also taking care of their children. However, we believe that this tough time can be made a little less difficult with the right strategies. Putting all the challenges together, this article would feature some of those strategies with the hope that it’ll lessen the MCO-induced stress faced by families of children with autism.

Strategy 1: Establish a structure or routine at home

Children with autism have a great need for predictability and routines. Establishing a daily routine at home not only would help them occupy their time meaningfully, but also gives them a sense of security. Predictability lets children anticipate events that are going to happen each day, giving them the space to prepare themselves too.

To get an example of daily routine, you can refer to our previous blog entry on “Support For Families With Autism Coping With Covid-19” here!

Strategy 2: Increase predictability through social stories and videos

As Autism is a spectrum, some children with autism may have limited ability to comprehend and digest all the changes that are going around them, hence it is important to break down and explain the events in simpler terms with the support of visuals. In order to increase understanding and predictability, social stories and videos come in handy to inform your child on the situation of the lockdown and the pandemic.

Check out the social stories that we have prepared from our previous blog entry that you can download and read to your child to explain the need to stay home during this season:

Here are additional videos and stories that break down and explain about the pandemic:

Strategy 3: Teach Your Child to Tolerate/ Wear a Face Mask

For some individuals with sensory issues, wearing a face mask can be a challenge. From the tugging of elastic bands on the ears, tingling texture of the fabric on the nose and parts of the face, to the damp and warm air circulating in the mask, these are some of the uncomfortable sensations that individuals with autism may experience on a magnified scale. 

To help them cope better, parents can implement a desensitization program which helps ease the process of getting the child used to wearing a face mask. A detailed guide of the desensitization program could be found in our previous blog entry.

These are some helpful videos explaining the importance of wearing a mask that could help with better understanding and predictability for children with autism:

  1. Wearing a Mask- A Social Narrative for Children by Autism Little Learners 
  2. Wearing a Mask – Coronavirus Social Story
  3. For Kids: Why Do I Have To Wear a Face Mask?
  4. Why Do People Wear Masks | Little Ones Version | Jack Hartman (Song)    

Additionally, to familiarize your child and build positive associations towards face masks, you can also try out some activities like getting your child to design and decorate their face masks, or allowing them to match the design/colour of face masks with their attire or other accessories. Putting a face mask on your child’s toy may also do the trick to encourage your child to wear his/her face mask. 

Strategy 4: Stay-at-home Activities

You might find your child having more free time at home, without all the play dates, classes and even playground times. However, it is crucial to ensure that your children are still spending their free time meaningfully. Learning can take place in multiple forms, and we have listed down some of our favourite stay-at-home activity ideas where parents can take on to enjoy with their children. This is also a great opportunity for the whole family to spend some quality time together! 

Play Activities:

Play activities including toy play, sensory play, interactive play, gross and fine motor activities help build attention span, engagement and help create opportunities to practise functional communication. Check out the following pages for play ideas that you could try with your children:

  1. 10 Easy Sensory Activities for Children with Autism
  2. 50 Screen Free Gross Motor Skills And Activities For Home

Arts and Crafts:

Arts and crafts is a great way to help build fine motor skills and develop creativity in your children. Below are some websites with simple arts and crafts ideas that you can do with your children at home:

  1. 50 best indoor activities for kids 
  2. 500+ Crafts For Kids ideas | crafts for kids, crafts, art for kids 

Story Time

Reading stories to your child with autism could improve your child’s listening skills, span of attention, and develop language skills. Here are some sites that provide online storybooks that you can read together with your child: 

  1. free children’s story books pdf | free kids story books online 
  2. Stories for Kids
  3. Storyline Online

Online Educational Games

There are also educational websites that provide free educational activities and games that your child can do online. These activities and games help your child to learn and practice math, language, science and even cognitive skills in fun ways:

  1. ABCya! • Learning Games and Apps for Kids
  2. PBS KIDS
  3. Funbrain: Games, Videos, and Books for Kids

Strategy 5: Video Calls

As we go into lockdown, it can be distressing for your child with autism for not being able to meet their friends and relatives for some time. One of the ways to help would be to explain the situation and stress on the importance of everyone staying at home through the social stories and videos shared above. Other than that, with the help of video conferencing service providers like Zoom, Google Meets and Skype, we can stay connected with our loved ones amidst the lockdown. Video call sessions can be scheduled regularly, where children can spend quality time by talking, drawing or even dancing and exercising together with loved ones even if they can’t meet face-to-face. While the children are occupied with the calls, parents could enjoy a breather too!

Here’s a great article on how to prepare your child with autism for a video call: Keeping Kids Connected to Loved Ones Via Zoom and FaceTime

Strategy 6: Outdoor Time

According to the announcement by the Prime Minister on 11th January 2021, for those living in areas under the enforcement of MCO, outdoor recreational activities such as jogging and cycling is allowed, but only among people within the same household with strict social distancing measures (i.e. ensuring a 2-meter distance at all times).

(Note: This is applicable as of date of writing. Do follow the latest updates by the Government on the rules and regulations!)

If your child with autism is struggling being cooped up indoors, you can consider bringing them out for a walk or a jog. In the occasion that you are heading out with your child, please do ensure that you follow the SOPs strictly at all times.

With all of the strategies listed above, we hope that this article will benefit parents and assist you in planning your daily activities with your child. EAP proudly offers more tips and info on Autism At Home, our very own online platform that provides resources as well as simplified tips and strategies to help families of children with autism in teaching and supporting them. 

At this time of crisis, it can be overwhelming for family members caring for individuals with autism, but do keep in mind that it is important for parents and caregivers to practice self-care as well. For tips on self-care, please check out our previous blog entry on #SafeAtHome Self-Care Checklist for Parents. In this season of MCO 2.0, let’s be mindful to practice all the stay safe measures at all times. Wear a mask if you are heading out, wash your hands frequently, and make sure to avoid any crowded places. Together, we can all play our part in this fight against Covid-19. 

References

  1. Example of daily routine and social stories: https://autismmalaysia.com/2020/03/support-for-families-with-autism-coping-with-covid-19/
  2. What is Coronavirus? (Video) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqaXBtSaiUE&feature=emb_title
  3. What is Coronavirus? (Story): https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/4019268/Lessons/Home%20Learning%20Hub/Coronavirus/Final_resource_hubpot.pdf
  4. Stay Home Superheroes (Video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNH6ZkpZVb4
  5. Wearing a Mask Social Story 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgaKLpSxQag 
  6. Wearing a Mask Social Story 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJIQn1cSfVk 
  7. Why do I have to Wear a Face Mask?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGB-hxst7fo 
  8. Why do People Wear Masks (Song): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iE6L-4tO-rs  
  9. Play activities 1: https://www.hopebridge.com/blog/10-easy-sensory-activities/ 
  10. Play activities 2: https://www.yourtherapysource.com/blog1/2020/03/23/gross-motor-skills-and-activities/
  11. Art and Craft Ideas 1: https://www.itsalwaysautumn.com/best-indoor-kid-crafts-activities.html 
  12. Art and Craft Ideas 2: https://www.pinterest.com/FortMagicFun/crafts-for-kids/ 
  13. Online Storybooks 1: https://monkeypen.com/pages/free-stories-for-kids 
  14. Online Storybooks 2: https://www.freechildrenstories.com/
  15. Online Storybooks 3: https://www.storylineonline.net/
  16. Online Educational Games 1: https://www.abcya.com/
  17. Online Educational Games 2: https://pbskids.org/
  18. Online Educational Games 3: https://www.funbrain.com/
  19. Preparing your child for video call: https://autismtherapies.com/2020/05/29/keeping-kids-connected-to-loved-ones-via-zoom-and-facetime/
  20. PM’s speech on outdoor activities (No. 30): https://www.pmo.gov.my/2021/01/perutusan-khas-pelaksanaan-perintah-kawalan-pergerakan-11-januari-2021/
  21. Autism At Home: https://www.autismmalaysia.com/autismathome/
  22. #SafeAtHome Self-Care Checklist for Parents: https://autismmalaysia.com/2020/06/safeathome-self-care-checklist-for-parents/
  23. Image Source: https://www.freepik.com/premium-photo/stay-home-quarantine-coronavirus-pandemic-prevention-sad-child-both-protective-medical-masks-near-windows-looks-out-window_10105613.htm