During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and sheltering in place have become a temporary new reality for us all. Figuring out how to develop a routine or beat boredom while social distancing is tricky for everyone, but especially for children with ASD. Since so many individuals with ASD take comfort in routines, adapting to changes amid this outbreak can be particularly challenging. Finding engaging and fun activities for your child to do independently or with the rest of your family, can help alleviate some of their stress in these trying times, and also help the whole family adapt to new routines.
Set Boundaries: Working or taking virtual classes from home can be a hard adjustment, and it takes time to figure when your work or school day ends while you and your family are at home. If your ASD child is doing homeschooling at this time, consider making a clear daily schedule. Set up time blocks for schoolwork, chores, any virtual therapy, maybe a break or two, and free time after schoolwork or therapy is over. You can even write it out on a dry erase board or some paper (visuals are always helpful), have your child help decorate it, and put it on the fridge or another place where everyone can refer to it. Not only will this be helpful for your ASD children, but it will also help the entire household develop a daily rhythm.
Get Out Those Crayons: Coloring may sound old school, but aside from being enjoyable, coloring and arts and crafts (sometimes called art therapy) are very beneficial for individuals of all ages with ASD. According to Autism Parenting Magazine, art therapy can help individuals with ASD build self expression and strengthen communication skills. Art Therapy is also excellent for managing stress, since it provides an emotional outlet while being especially engaging for those who are sensory or tactile driven. There are plenty of inexpensive coloring books on the market for teens and adults. Pinterest is full of DIY arts and craft ideas, like homemade Play-Doh with flour, salt and a few other kitchen staples. There are lots of different coloring or paint-by-numbers apps available, but paper and colored pencils can work just as well. Perhaps you and your child can integrate art therapy into your new daily routine by doing some coloring together after dinner, which is a great way to unwind.
Movie Night: Watching movies has long been a beloved at-home pastime, and can be especially fun during these times of social distancing and shelter-in-place. It’s best to choose your film wisely. Sometimes, movies that are too long, dramatic or even a little scary can be overstimulating for individuals with ASD. Other very familiar films may become too repetitive and prevent your child from remaining engaged with other activities. However, during a particularly stressful time, a familiar old favorite movie might be exactly what your child needs to help relax. To keep your child from getting overstimulated or too tired, you may want to watch your movie over a few days. Your child can pick a film and work on turning your living room into an at-home movie theater: pulling down the blinds, turning off the lights, and gathering blankets and pillows. You can even make popcorn together, and your child can choose a different topping each night.
Meal Planning: If you're looking for a way your child can enjoyably help out around the house, meal planning is a great option, and adapts well to sheltering in place. You and your child can first pick which days you are meal planning for and choose breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. Then you can flip through cookbooks and magazines, or scroll through Pinterest for recipe inspiration. Once your child picks out a recipe, they can create a shopping list, work on ordering a delivery, and help unpack and organize the ingredients. If your child is interested in spending some more time in the kitchen, check out our previous post for some tips.
Break a Sweat: Staying inside can certainly lead to restlessness. To combat that cabin fever, consider doing an activity with your ASD child that gets them up and moving. According to Mayo Clinic, physical activity and exercise are very helpful to anxiety and depression, because they release mood boosters like endorphins, while providing a healthy distraction from worries. There are plenty of ways to be physically active while sheltering-in-place. You can try a game of tag, or even a dance party. Or, you could check out some simple workout videos on YouTube. The entire family can take part in these activities, too.