As I write we are in lockdown in Ireland and Covid has taken a firm hold in our community.
Thankfully, none of us have been impacted and I hope you and your families are well.
How are you coping with lockdown? Are you maintaining routine and how are your children reacting?
I must be honest and say we are experiencing mixed results with our two boys, which yet again highlights the vast differences that exist on the Autism spectrum.Early on in the lockdown we had issues with our eldest boy not eating, he suffers from Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) ( I'll talk about this some other time, but here is a link for those interested). Link
He has a limited diet anyway and stress can restrict this even further. He is an intelligent boy and was becoming concerned with the rise in Covid cases. He has a tablet and while he has no social media accounts, perhaps he was scared by some of the misinformation that sadly permeates our online environment. Or perhaps the nightly news had spooked him.
His anxiety heightened, he was regressing back to only eating minimal levels of bland food and avoiding everything else. I have learned that saying eat this makes no difference, so we had to get to the root of the problem.
This was his anxiety.
We talked to him and explained while it was great, he is educating himself on the situation, he is safe with his family. We kept doing this and it seemed to have a slow but positive impact.
As regards food, I’d rather he eats something than nothing and while we work on his food avoidance, we tried to find out what he would eat.
He loves cheese sandwiches but as many parents will identify with, he only likes one type of cheese! Seriously spreadable. He also likes sausages, but, yes you guessed it, only one type which are cooked from a local shop.
While I never bought into the need to buy a trolley load of Toilet Rolls, I now buy the entire stock of Seriously spreadable, which is hard to get in Donegal whenever and wherever I see it.
As for the Sausages, I was lucky that a local shop continues to run its deli and they now smile as I come in and order most of the supply!
More relaxed he is at least starting to eat again but I would advise everyone not to shy away from the facts and talk to your children about the current situation.
Explain in the most appropriate way what is going on and reassure them they are safe and loved.
I have learned over the years that every meltdown and each behaviour have a trigger and as my eldest grows and matures, these are usually linked to anxiety, which we need to address, face and discuss.
As for my youngest, it’s always been a battle to get him to go to school anyway, so he is actually happier now that the schools are closed. Our task is now to maintain his education and ensure that his social skills do not regress.
We are working with his school remotely on ensuring this does not happen and I’d like to share what they have given us.
Now every child is different, and I would never claim this is the definite advice, but it works for our wee boy.
The key for us is to follow a schedule, we have a weekly lesson timetable. If your school has not sent this, please ask
them why not.
We teach him at the kitchen table and put all of his normal school equipment on this to try and replicate as best we can his desk at school.
We are all aware of the attention spans of our children, so we make time for breaks when he needs them. We use the breaks as milestones and rewards to encourage his attention.
Let them play. I know the weather is not great, but when you can get some fresh air grab the chance. Our school even sent us ideas on how to make educational games of foraging and nature quizzes.
Remember there is great support available both from schools and online. Our boy is 7 and we find the following Apps available on Play store and links are useful.
- Read with phonics (alien icon)
- Jolly phonics app-
- Little writer pre-schooler
- Math kids (lion icon)
The final thing we do is to ensure that we maintain his social skills.
PJs are great when relaxing, but we get him changed out of these for schoolwork.
We are also ensuring we speak to him as much as possible to keep his language skills working.
I see some experts are encouraging parents to have their kids accompany them shopping, obviously subject to social distancing rules.
We are personally not doing this, as Covid is too rampant in our area, but I appreciate what others are trying to do. I passionately believe that our children are at great risk of regression during these lockdowns and it is up to us as parents to maintain not just their schoolwork but their social skills.
I’d like to finish with some advice for parents. This is a stressful time and each of us have different challenges, but I’d urge everyone to not do this alone. Ask for help with tasks that are stressful for you.
Be it teachers, your support network or family.
Do not be afraid to ask for help, it’s not a sign of weakness.
We always consider the anxiety of our children, but as parents we must not be afraid to express our own feelings.
Many people are using creative ways to express their feelings about the pandemic.
The internet is full of examples of artwork, poems and songs all about coronavirus and life in lockdown.
Any way you can think of to express your feelings could really help you.
We are living through a significant historical event, what you create to embody that might even be valuable one day. And you know what it may just help us, and our children survive lockdown.
Stay well everyone.
John Joe an Autism Dad