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Helping kids with autism adjust during the COVID-19 pandemic

A doctor offers recommendations on how to help children with autism adjust to stay-at-home routines in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — April is Autism Awareness Month.

Children on the autism spectrum often rely on predictable daily schedules – but thanks to COVID-19 – our lives are anything but routine.

Veena Ahuja, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, recommends creating a plan for children each day.

“A lot of kids with autism are very concrete and they like things that are planned and really easy to expect, so they can prepare themselves for that transition to the next activity – even just knowing generally what they’re going to do,” she said.

Dr. Ahuja said children with autism have a hard time with unexpected changes in daily routine.

She suggests creating a rough schedule for the day so they know what to expect hour by hour.

Dr. Ahuja said children with autism benefit from physical activity – but current social distancing restrictions have closed some parks and playgrounds, limiting activity options.

However, indoor play at home can help burn energy. She recommends clearing out a room, or basement, so a child has space for active play and room to run around.

Playing outdoors, at a safe distance from others, is also a good option.

Dr. Ahuja said there are still many ‘unknowns’ when it comes to COVID-19, making it hard to for parents to explain the situation to children on the spectrum.

“What we’ve talked to a lot of families about is really trying to use some sort of social story, or some way of explaining what’s happening,” said Dr. Ahuja. “Talking it out or using pictures to explain to kids that you’re safe, you’re safe at home, things are going to be okay, but we may not know what’s going to happen for a while,”

Dr. Ahuja encourages parents and caregivers to reach out to their child’s care team for help if they’re struggling with the current COVID-19 situation.

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