• Christina Delgado, M.Ed.

Autism and Coronavirus (COVID-19): A Special Ed Expert's Guidance

Updated: Aug 1, 2020

Blog posted on May 1,2020 at PhysicianEstate.com

Written by: Christina Delgado, M.S.Ed of SpecialEdUSA.com

Autism Related Rates

  • According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2020), 1 in 54 children have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

  • Currently, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) (2020) claims that we have about 49.5 million students currently enrolled in our public-school system in America.

  • Therefore, with this data, we can roughly estimate that there are approximately 916,000 school ages students who have been formally diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in our public-school system today.

School Closures Coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • During these uncertain times, this has approximately 900,000 ASD students and their families who are staying home, working from home, learning from home, and playing at home. It is only to be expected that in this type of scenario, many children and families will be left stressed, nervous, and scared of the unknown. However, this is the time that we need to be the bravest we can – for our kids, families, and loved ones.

  • Your child knows that something is wrong. Even if you have not mentioned the words “Coronavirus” or “COVID-19” to you children, I guarantee you that they have sensed that something is not going as normal right now. Kids are smart! Even for children who have various delays or have trouble verbalizing their thoughts, there is a 99% chance that they have noticed some changes due to COVID-19. Changes that children could have noticed include: 1) Not going to school; 2) not seeing their friends; 3) staying home all the time; 4) family members wearing masks, gloves; 5) washing hands more often; and 7) hearing the words “social distancing, COVID-19, Coronavirus”. There is an expression that says there is no use in covering the sun with your thumb; meaning that you can’t deny the obvious.

  • In my personal and professional opinion, I believe that the 1st step should be asking your child(ren) what they already know or have heard about “Coronavirus” or “COVID-19”. Once your child tells you what they know about it, then you can educate them, redirect them, and provide them with accurate information. You can ask your child questions such as: 1) Have you noticed any differences in our lives lately?; 2) do you know what COVID-19 or Coronavirus is?; 3) What do you know about COVID-19/Coronavirus?; and 4) what questions do you want to ask me about COVID-19/Coronavirus?”. By speaking to your special needs child about what COVID-19 is, what it entails, how to prevent it, and how to keep yourself safe, this will allow your child to think off of logic rather than fear and emotion. Try to eliminate the fear of the unknown out of the topic. 

  • In efforts to have your child learn about COVID-19 and minimize their fear, follow the implement the following: 

  • Ensure your child that mommy and daddy will always be there to take care of them and love them.

  • Ensure your child that as long as everyone follows the rules, then their friends/ family will be okay.

  • Highlight to your child all the daily routines, and tasks that will stay the same: Being with mommy and daddy, eating breakfast everyday, brushing our teeth, playing, doing schoolwork, having lunch, having dinner, bath time, reading time, go to sleep, etc.

  • Tell you children all the fun activities that you can do as a family at home: Watch movies, arts and crafts, baking, cooking, puzzles, reading, homework, singing, dancing, games, gardening, Facetiming/ Zoom/ Houseparty with friends & family, etc.

  • Explain to your child the best ways to stay safe and prevent ourselves from getting the virus: gaining a healthy immune system, eating nutritiously (vitamins & minerals), exercising, washing their hands, and social distancing.

“7 Strategies to Support Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Through Uncertain Times” – Autism and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (2020), published a guide titled “Supporting Individuals With Autism Through Uncertain Times”. This 60-page guide offers seven strategies that are meant to support children and young adults with autism during these uncertain times.

  • Also, this guide showcases various resources, tools, and exercises that were intended to aid families to apply these strategies in the home.

  • The seven strategies stated in this guide include: 1) Support understanding; 2) offer opportunities for expression; 3) prioritize coping and calming skills; 4) maintaining routine; 5) build new routine; 6) foster connections (from a distance); and 7) be aware of changing behaviors.

To read more about this guide, visit: Scribd – Supporting Individuals With Autism Through Uncertain Times

Fun Ideas to Teach Your Child About Hygiene

  • Glitter on hands: Put glitter on you child’s desk or workspace. Depending on your child’s academic level, ask them to write out letters or words in the glitter. You can ask them to write the letter “A” with their finger in the glitter, or spell “Apple”, or you can ask them what letter does “Cat” start with. All of these strategies will promote letter/ word recognition, fine motor skills, independence, gross motor skills, spelling, vocabulary, and reading. You can also turn in into a drawing activity and have them draw a simple illustration in the glitter. Once you are done, show you child to the sink, put soap in their hands, and notice that the small pieces of glitter will take 20-30 seconds or more to wash off. This is a great strategy to practice letters, words, hand fun, and practice hygiene.

  • Singing song while washing hands: This strategy is an oldie but a goodie. Show you child to the sink, put soap in their hands, and have them scrub while singing the Happy Birthday song or any other song they like that lasts a minimum of 20 seconds.

  • No touch greetings: This is a fun way to show you child to keep safe, while teaching them a culturally inclusive lesson. For example, you can teach then how cultures such as Japan, India, China, and others greet each other without physically touching. Children can practice different ways of bowing when greeting others in addition to other non-touch greetings. If you child has a classmate, neighbor, or peer from one of these countries, then they can inquire about these diverse cultural greetings with them.

How Do I Get My Kids On Track? Autism and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

So, your home is not just your home now-a-days, it’s your child’s classroom, your office, the playground, the dining hall, the sleep space, and everything in between. Do you want to prevent your home from becoming a mad house? Do you want to keep some sense of structure?! If so, then you need to SSOAR. SSOAR stands for:

  • S: Structure

  • S: Schedule

  • O: Organization

  • A: Accountability

  • R: Routine

  • Without SSOAR, it is more likely than not that your house will be a stressful, unorganized place where it will be very difficult for any of the family members to thrive – including you!

  • From all my years of teaching, I can tell you that all kids, especially those with special needs, NEED a daily schedule and routine. They thrive off of predictability and knowing what is expected of them. Without a daily schedule and routine they feel lost and confused.

  • This is why teachers LOVE charts! There are so many types of charts that can be beneficial to your child. Children need to be taught that although they are having school in the home setting now, they must still follow rules, have responsibilities, and strive to reach goals.

  • Below is a list of charts that you can use at home and can be beneficial to creating SSOAR for you child.

Note: Your child may need some of these charts. Do not use more charts then you need. The charts you use should depend on your child’s needs and goals. In my opinion, I would recommend most people to adopt the “in home rules chart” and the “reward chart”. If your child has behavioral issues, then I would also utilize the “behavior chart”.

Disclaimer: I am cautioning all parents now – None of these charts will work unless you are consistent, repetitive, and stick to the same standards, expectations and you initially set for you child. In fact, in my opinion, if you purchase one of these charts, put it in the house, use it for a couple days and then refer back to it once in a blue moon, then it may result in your child taking you less seriously due to the lack of follow through.

Chart 1.

In Home Rules:

  • Get a poster board and start writing down rules that are realistic, attainable, and age appropriate for your child. Even better, is for you to sit with your child and together come up with some rules for the household. When working on the “in home rules” together, this is a great way to make sure that your child understand the rules and is involved in the process.

  • Your child being involved with the rule chart making process also gives you parents extra leverage to have them take accountability when they do not follow the rules. At the bottom of the “in home rules” board, I would have each family member sign it. This allows the child to recognize and uphold a sense of responsibly and commitment.

  • When a rule is not followed, you can tell your child, “Look Sammy (while pointing to the rule board), we came up with these rules together. You told me no screaming is a good rule and that is why we put it on the board. Look how you, mommy, and daddy all signed the bottom of the rule board. Mommy and daddy are not screaming. We are keeping our promise. We are following the rules. Why are you not following the rules they you helped make? What can Sammy do to start following this rule? Next time you feel like screaming, what else can Sammy do to tell/ show mommy how he feels?”

  • This type of communication makes Sammy take accountability, responsibility, and encourages him to think of different, more effective ways, to communicate that is not screaming.

Autism and Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Chart 2.

Reward Chart:

  • A reward chart is great, because it allows you to write down all that tasks you would like your child to complete. These tasks should reflect underlined themes mentioned in the “in home rules”. Again, just like the “in home rules chart” sit down and fill out the reward chart together.

  • Of course, you want to encourage the tasks that you want to be on the chart (such as: clean bedroom), but you’ll be surprised how kids also come up with their own valuable tasks. Then, ask your child what reward they would like to receive at the end of the week once they complete all of their tasks.

  • On the bottom of the reward chart, write what the prize will be at the end of the week to keep your child incentivized. The reward chart should be a table with boxes showing all of the days of the week. When a child completes a task, then they can put a sticker on the appropriate box.

  • Once your child earns enough points at the end of the week, they have earned their prize.

Chart 3.

Schedule Chart:

  • Daily scheduling charts are incredibly important, because they show a visual representation of their routine and what is expected of them. A scheduling chart should show the continuous routines happening Monday – Sunday. It should also show a minimum of times from 7am (or whenever you wake up) to 9pm (or whenever is your child’s bedtime.)

  • I suggest you get a scheduling chart that is a dry erase board type material so that you can add, change, remove information as needed. Maybe one day you need to change the schedule because you are doing a special activity or event, and that is totally fine.

  • For those of you parents who have not already invested in a daily schedule chart, you should get one ASAP. Also, especially for kids with special needs, I would suggest getting a schedule chart that includes PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System.

  • PECS are one of the most common and effect tools utilized in ABA therapy to help individuals with autism and other related disabilities. So what are PECS? Well PECS are quite simple to understand and are very useful. PECS are just simple age appropriate pictures (either illustrated or real-life photos), which show the desired, action, item, tool, thing, intention with the word at the top of the card.

  • So, let’s say that your child is 3 years old and is not speaking yet. And let’s say that its 8am and your child just woke up but does not know what to do next. Your child can go to their schedule chart and either the words “Brush teeth” can be written on the chart, or you can have a PECS card on the chart in the 8am spot that just shows a picture of a child brushing their teeth.

  • This encourages picture/word recognition, independence, routine, and self-sufficiency. PECS are especially great for kids who are verbally delayed.

Chart 4.

Behavior Chart:

  • Is you child showcasing behavior problems such as pushing, hitting, not completing work, not listening, etc? If so, they could benefit from a behavior chart. For this chart, I would pick a chart that reflects your child’s interests and personality.

  • For example, one year I have a student who was very much into toy cars. So, I got him a behavior chart that was about cars! Behavior charts are great, because they teach accountability, responsibly, and the power of one’s choices. Behavior charts give teachers/parents to opportunity to turn a child’s unfortunate decisions into a teachable moment.

  • If you already have a behavior chart at home (or are thinking to get one) make sure to put it somewhere visible and easily accessible. Lets say that Monday is the beginning of your behavior chart week and Sunday is the last day of the week (aka: prize day).

  • Once you have your behavior chart, you sit your child down, explain to them how it works and what is expected of them. You can put your “rules” chart” next to the behavior chart so that the child has a physical reminder of all the rules.

  • Although there are various types of behavior charts, I would recommend getting a chart that shows you child going up and down the chart in a vertical sense. Also, in my experience, it is super important that when you child has made a good decision or a bad decision and they should be moved up or down the chart (which reflects their choices), have the child move themselves up and down the chart.

  • If the child moves up the chart for a good choice that was made, they will feel a sense of accomplishment, pride, and achievement. If the child moves down the chart for a bad choice and not following the rules, then they usually feel a sense of sadness and remorse. The child should be moved up and/or down the chart throughout the day to provide the child with continuity of the rules.

  • Try not to scold you child when they make a bad decisions and move down the chart. Remind them that their choices have repercussions and ask them what they can do better next time. If the student is at the top of the chart by the end of the week, the child will receive their prize.

  • I usually liked to make the weekly prize a surprise. I noticed that it’s not really about the prize for the younger ones, it’s more about how you hype it up! As you can see in the sample below, behavior chats can be used for one child or for several.

Sample: Behavior Chart

Chart 5.

Academic Achievement Chart:

  • An academic chart is similar to the looks of a reward chart. This chart is meant for those kids who you now are very bright and can do well, but lack the motivation. This chart should be done on a dry erase board, since tests, quizzes, projects, etc change often.

  • I personally prefer weekly academic achievement charts for kids in the younger grades because you can use bigger font, words, images wile showing less information so that it does not become visually overwhelming for the child. I also like to add a row for “homework completion” and “effort/ conduct”, because often times for me, it is not about the grade, but the effort that was put forth.

  • You can use stickers with green check marks and red X’s to showcase which days homework and conduct was given by the child. Also, since there are not quizzes, tests, projects everyday, I like to put the date of the quiz/ test underneath the assessment so remind the children when that assessment is coming.

  • Ask your child what their specific academic goals for this week and if they do reach their goals, what reward they would like to receive at the end of the week. On the bottom of chart, write both the goal and the reward to keep your child incentivized.

  • This chart should be a table with boxes showing all of the days of the week. When a child completes a task, then they can put a sticker on the appropriate box. Once your child earns enough points at then end of the week, they can have earned their prize.

Sample: Academic Achievement Chart

Chart 6.

Homework Chart:

  • Homework charts are simple, small, and direct. This is a good tool for children who do not like to do their homework. At the beginning of the school week have your child write their goal on the chart and tell you the reward they would like to receive. The “goal” on the chart should always read something similar to “Do homework daily. Finish all homework and turn in quality work. Do homework 5 days a week.”

  • Once the child has completed their homework a reached their daily homework goal, have the child place a velcro star (or other detachable velcroed item) on the chart to signify that they have completed their homework goal for that day. If their weekly goal is reached, the child will earn their prize.

Chart 7.

Reading Chart:

  • Reading charts are simple, small, and direct. This chart is for those parents who put an extra emphasis on having their child read daily. Reading can take place independently, with mom, or while reading aloud with other family members.

  • Many parents like reading charts because they help encourage a love for reading and stories. At the beginning of the school week have your child write their goal on the chart and tell you the reward they would like to receive. The “goal” on the chart could always read anything you want it to.

  • Once the child has completed their homework a reached their daily homework goal, have the child place a velcro star (or other detachable velcroed item) on the chart to signify that they have completed their homework goal for that day. If their weekly goal is reached, the child will earn their prize.

  • In my opinion, I think reading charts are more for the goal oriented type child who is looking for more way to win prizes. I do no think that reading charts should be taken too seriously since they have the schoolwork they are already completing.

  • I believe that for the earlier grades, it is more key to have kids adopt a passion and curiosity for reading, rather then feeling forced to do it daily. This is also a great way to have parent/ child time or sibling/sibling time.

Sample: Reading Chart

Children with Autism and Exercise – Autism and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • In addition to various type of schedules and charts that can help children get on track, research shows that parents should also integrate exercise into their child’s daily life.

  • Researchers Toscano, Carvalho, and Ferreria (2018) conducted a research study titled “Exercise Effects for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Metabolic Health, Autistic Traits, and Quality of Life.” This research study analyzed the effects of a 48-week long exercise intervention and how this exercise intervention effects ASD diagnosed participants in terms of metabolic profile, ASD traits, and perceived quality of life in children with for have been formally diagnosed with ASD.

  • This study’s participants included 64 children who have ASD, and they were put into two groups; 46 participants in the experimental group and 18 participants in the control group. Results from the study showed that the experimental group demonstrated positive effects pertaining to metabolic indicators, ASD traits, and parent-perceived quality of life (Toscano, Carvalho, & Ferreria, 2018).

  • Furthermore, the results from this study claimed that exercise and physical activity (including skills such as basic coordination and strengthening) hold tremendous value in terms of improving upon the metabolic health, ASD traits, and quality of life for children with ASD.

  • In addition Toscano, Carvalho, and Ferreria (2018) research study, researcher Barcley (2012) published an article, which stated that research suggests that yoga exercises help children focus, concentrate, improves strength, reduces stress, improves motor coordination, and betters social skills.

  • Yoga type exercises and motions (i.e. deep breathing, yoga poses, tensing and relaxing muscles, singing, and humming) are known to be beneficial to all children, but especially those with autism and other disabilities (Barcley, 2012).

Time-Taking Projects – Autism and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • In order to keep you child busy at home and motivated with activities and projects, present your child with time taking projects. Examples of time taking projects include: making a vegetable/flower garden, build a tree-house, completing a large puzzle, and adoption a dog.

  • These time taking projects sets a goal for your child and leave them with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction once they complete the project.

  • These timely projects also provide families with the opportunity to work on a project together that the whole family can enjoy.

  • Although there are many benefits to having a family dog, kindly tempered dogs are known to be even more beneficial to children with autism. Dogs offer love, companionship, friendship, reduce stress, and improve social skills.

  • I often suggest to the parents to have their child read a book aloud to their dog or cat at home. This helps improve fluency, reading speed, reading comprehension, letter/word recognition, self-esteem, and motivation in what most children feel to be a judgement free environment.

  • According to Angel Sense (2020), the following 13 dog breeds are the most reliable and tested dog breeds for kids with autism: golden retriever, Saint Bernard, labradoodle, collie, german shepard, bernese mountain dog, Samoyed, Newfoundland, beagle, Staffordshire bull terrier, poodle, and great Pyrenees. However, there are many other dog breeds that made good pets for children with autism.

  • The most important thing when choosing a dog who will be a companion for a child with autism, is to choose a dog who is calm, sociable temperament, trainable, intelligence, moderate energy levels, sweet, and non-aggressive.

  • In addition to having a dog as a pet, you can even get your dog trained in pet therapy.

  • Pet therapy is common and is proven to be beneficial in aiding children with autism.

  • Pet therapy allows for guided interactions between a professionally trained animal and a person.

  • Pet therapy is more often to help a child or an adult recover from or cope with a mental disorder or a health problem.

  • Pet therapy has been proven to improve the following skills in a child with autism: 1) motor skills; 2) joint movement; 3) assisted/ independent movement; 4) self-esteem; 5) verbal communication; 6) social skills; 7) willingness to join in activities; 8) motivating to exercise; 9) reading fluency; 10) reading speed; 11) reading comprehension; 12) communication; 13) responsibly; and 14) emotional support (Healthline, 2020).

  • Furthermore, researcher Carlisle (2013) conducted a study, which concluded that 67% of families who have a child with autism, also have a dog. Of this group of individual, 94% of parents claimed that their child who has autism has formed a special bond and relationship with their dog (Carlisle, 2013).

  • Therefore, since autism is a disability which effects one’s social, emotional, and communicative capacities, then having a child with autism create a special bond with a dog sounds like a positive effect.

Tools to Help You and Your Child – Autism and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • There is a tool called Angel Sense GPS. This tool is a tracker designed to track special needs children. This tracker offers a tracker, alarm, step counter, auto alerts, assistive speakerphone, 2 way voice, irremovable wearing, call SOS/request button, share live location, belt, school dashboard, customer support which keeps an extra set of eye and ears on your child 24/7.

  • Angel Sense offers different packages, but costs $39.99/month on average. To find out more about Angel Sense tools and services, visit: https://www.angelsense.com. I am not being paid in any form or shape for writing this blog post.

Free Online Activities/Support – Autism and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Free Webinars https://www.autism.org/webinars-autism/

  • Support for individuals with ASD: Coping with family and virtual interactions during COVID-19

  • Emotional support for families during COVID-19

  • Anxiety, autism: 5 prime suspects – with tips for coping at home during COVID-19

YouTube Channels

  • Brain Pop

  • Dr. Panda Toto Time

  • Dr. Binocs Show

  • Play Mobil

Free Yoga Videos

  • Brain Pop: Coronavirus: How to Teach Kids about COVID-19

  • Dr. Panda Toto Time – Coronavirus Outbreak – How to Protect yourself

  • The Dr. Bincos Show: Coronavirus – What is Coronavirus?

  • The Dr. Bincos Show: Stay Home, Stay Safe – Quarantine

  • Coronavirus Myths

  • Symptoms of Coronavirus

  • Robot explains the Coronavirus to children

  • Robot explains “keeping your distance”

Sesame Street

GoNoodle Offers: in home games, movement, yoga, mindfulness, curricular activities, recommendations for off screen activities, an array of fun and educational children videos, and much more.

  • Educators – https://www.gonoodle.com

  • Families – https://family.gonoodle.com

Educate Yourself – COVID- 19 Facts

According to the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO), here are some facts about COVID-19 that we should all be aware of:

  • Symptoms: 

  • Tiredness

  • Dry cough

  • Fever

  • Shortness of breath

  • Lack of smell and taste

  • Chills

  • Muscle pain

  • Headache

  • Sore throat

  • Symptoms usually appear 2-14 days after being exposed.

  • People at Risk: Individuals of all ages, especially those who are vulnerable due to other preexisting medical conditions, such as Diabetes.

  • How It is Spread: Person-to-person contact (about 6 feet) distance from someone who has COVID-19. One can become infected through the respiratory droplets of another, which are transmitted through someone else’s cough, sneeze, and/or speaking. You can also get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

  • Prevention:

  • Wash hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and water

  • Wash your hands frequently

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

  • Stay home

  • Social distancing (6 feet)

  • Cover your sneeze or cough with a tissue or elbow

  • Use alcohol based hand sanitizer that contains a minimum of 60% alcohol.

  • Clean surfaces frequently

  • What to Do if You Get Sick: 

  • Stay home and isolate yourself from others.

  • If you are feeling more severe symptoms, then call your doctor.

  • Telemedicine

  • There is yet to be a vaccine or treatment for Coronavirus

  • Most COVID-19 cases are mild and should be cared for at home.

Is 6 Feet of Social Distancing Really Enough?

  • In contrast to the 6 feet social distancing rule, PhysicianEstate (2020) published an article titled “How is COVID-19 Transmitted? What is the Right Mask for COVID-19? A Physician-Scientist’s Perspective”, which states that the virus can be spread up to 26 feet or more in distance.

  • PhysicanEstate (2020) article stated, “We are unsure if the virus laden particles travel for 6 feet or 26 feet, or if they can travel further. On the other hand, aerosols are smaller size, thought to be suspended in air, flow with air currents, and do not gravitate downwards. Aerosols do not have a limit on how far they can travel.