Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families will undoubtedly see a change in their daily schedules in the coming weeks due to Covid-19 (Coronavirus).  Learn what to expect and how to best communicate schedule changes to your child by reading our tips below and check back in for more tips.

What you need to know about Autism and Schedule Changes: 

Even very small or slight disruptions to a routine can cause a child diagnosed with autism to feel distress and confusion, and can result in behavior problems.  These behavioral reactions are due to the increased stress, fear, and anxiety that arise due to a lack of predictability, which makes them feel less safe and less secure.    

Children who are used to the highly structured experience of a classroom or an ABA Center may have difficulty adjusting to increased time in a less structured home setting.  The unexpected presence of siblings or parents now working from home may be a challenge for children who thrive in a controlled environment. Even if they may not be able to articulate it, children with Autism Spectrum Disorders can be hypersensitive to anxiety exhibited by the adults around them and may act out or withdraw in response. 

It is often difficult for children with ASD to understand verbal explanations.  This is particularly true when trying to communicate concepts such as illness, how long something will last, or what is going to happen in the future. Visual strategies are proven to be effective ways of communicating with children that have Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Below we have outlined how to create picture schedules and social narratives to assist in communicating schedule changes.

How to help children with ASD understand their schedule changes: 

Create a picture Schedule: 

For some children, a Picture Schedule is an effective way to help them through a schedule change.  A picture schedule is a series of pictures that show the sequence of activities that a child can expect to happen within a period of time.  There are many different ways to construct picture schedules. See resources below: 

Create a social narrative: 

For children who are older or higher functioning, a Social Narrative can be a helpful way to prepare for change and give direction on appropriate behavioral responses.  A Social Narrative tells a story about the way events are likely to unfold in a new situation, emphasizes relevant details and how a child should respond.  Take a look at the following video for an example of a social narrative about taking a break from school:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zio3BVQHQws&list=PLQnwECjj19TraqmhPBOZEJ3MKMI_2fGYI&index=4&t=0s

Here are some key things to remember when supporting a child with ASD through a schedule change : 

  • Anticipate that changes in behavior may occur in response to even minor changes.  Prepare caregivers for this possibility.
  • Try a visual schedule or social narrative!  I’m always amazed at how well these techniques work with ASD kids.  You can have confidence that they are both evidence-based practices.  
  • Communicate and/or demonstrate the usefulness of visuals to parents and support them as they attempt to use them in their new routine.
  • Start simple and build from there.  
  • Children with Autism typically have difficulty with abstraction.  That means that for some of our learners, a picture representation won’t make sense.  You can work through the following hierarchy until you find which type of representation is most accessible:
    • Object  
    • Color Photos
    • Black and White Photos
    • Color Drawing
    • Black and White Drawing
    • Written Word

We hope this article helps.