4 tips for supporting autistic children during closures

Autistic children may be finding changes to their routines hard but there are ways to reduce the feeling of upheaval

Amy Sayer

Coronavirus: How can we best support autistic pupils amid school closures?

Everyone is finding the huge changes to their lives that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused tough.

The world as we know it has changed, routines have been upended and there is a high amount of uncertainty about the future. This is hard for anyone but for a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), their levels of anxiety will be particularly high during this time.

Furthermore, with the extra pressure to home-school children, it could mean that things can become stressful very quickly.

Coronavirus: How to help autistic children amid school closures

There are some simple but important ways that teachers can try and help, though, that can have a positive impact.

1. Have a daily routine

People with ASD can feel very anxious about changes to routine. They have to plan everything and keep regular routines and rituals to help control their anxiety on a day-to-day basis. 

Any changes to routine need to be discussed in advance as much as possible. However, with the ferocity of Covid-19, this may not have been possible. As such, it is important to plan and discuss with children what their new "normal" will look like for a while.

If you are able to plan a new daily routine together, this will enable the child to feel more in control of this new situation and start to process how to cope with the changes. This can include lesson times, but also similar break-times and lunchtimes to their school day will also help. 

Putting together a timetable that they can display around the house could help so that they always know what to expect with every part of the day.

2. Think creatively

If an autistic child you teach likes learning new things and has certain special interests, it will be important to talk through with them any work you have set them and see how it can fit in with these interests. 

For example, you may set a project about the Tudors but know they have a special interest in maths and numbers. As such, you could ask them to create a timeline of all Tudor events that incorporates the information you have provided.

3. Exercise

This may not be something teachers can directly control, but exercise is important to help look after children’s mental health.

If they are interested in doing some form of exercise, this should be encouraged, even if it may overlap with more core teaching time.

4. Support websites and organisations

Teachers should not shy away from asking for help from relevant organisations that can provide other advice for providing autistic children with as structured and beneficial learning outcomes as possible. 

Using online forums and specialist websites such as the National Autistic Society or The Curly Hair Project can be useful to help feel supported, gain confidence and feel less isolated yourself when trying to maintain as normal a teaching routine as possible for all your students, including those who can require additional support as well.

Amy Sayer is a secondary school teacher and writer whose book on staff mental health in schools is to be released later this year

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