How parents can support children with ASD or other behavior issues while under Covid-19 quarantine

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Child does homework at home with parents

There is no surprise that most industries and health practices have been dramatically transformed with the Covid-19 pandemic. Behavior analysts within health care and educational settings have had to adjust how they practice and work with their students or clients.

We spoke to the masters in Behavior Analysis online program director, Jillian Wilson about the important contributions of behavior analysts during this time and how tools like daily routine calendars and telehealth ABA therapy can help children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and other behavior conditions.

Jillian Wilson, ABA Program Director at Regis CollegeQuestion: How are behavior analysts typically integral in creating routine for their clients, students, etc? How can the absence of this be disruptive?  What challenges would children with ASD or other behavior issues face by having to be under lockdown or “stay at home” measures?

Children tend to do their best when there is a structure in place. With structure, children know what to expect and how to behave. Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders often rely on structure as they struggle with managing some inflexible patterns of behavior, like becoming upset if certain routines or daily schedules are not followed. With many states under strict stay at home orders, these normal routines and typical daily structures have been altered or interrupted causing some distress and challenging behaviors.

Q: What are some simple things parents can do if they can’t take their children to school or their usual outpatient center?

Parents at home with their children are already stretched to the limit. However, you may be looking for some simple ways to help your child settle into their new routine at home. Here are a few strategies to try:

  1. Create a schedule. This doesn’t mean you need to tackle academic tasks! Instead, parents can provide a general timetable for activities. You can write out a schedule or use a timer to indicate when an activity begins and ends. This is a nice way to help a child transition and visualize the amount of time they will be spending completing an activity.
  2. First/then statements. Provide your child with a verbal schedule that chunks two activities together. This is particularly helpful if the first activity is not preferred. For instance, “First, we need to clean up the playroom. Then, we can play on the iPad for 10 minutes.” This way of presenting information allows your child to predict what preferred activity will occur immediately following the non-preferred activity.
  3. Give choices. If your child is able to make choices, providing choice allows your child to practice making choices and gives them some control over their activity. Try giving your child two choices of activities they need to complete. For instance, “Would you like to clean up your toys or do your homework?” Both activities are things that need to be done, but you are giving your child the opportunity to choose which activity to do first.  Children can also choose items or activities they would like to earn with appropriate behaviors. For instance, “Ok, you chose to clean up your toys. Do you want to work for iPad time or gold fish?” Choosing the items or activities they will earn makes the item even more desirable!
  4. Be flexible and forgiving. Home may have previously been your family’s haven, but now has become your work space, classroom, gym, cafeteria, and many other things. Please remember to be flexible and forgiving with your child and yourself while you navigate these uncertain times. If the schedule breaks down but your child is having a great day, abandon the schedule and enjoy that time!

Q: How can parents maintain their child’s treatment schedules at home?

Talk to your child’s behavior therapist or Board Certified Behavior Analyst® about the best way to work toward treatment goals at home. Therapists may be able to provide you with treatment protocols or individualized strategies that work best for your child. You may even be able to connect for a few telehealth parent training sessions!

Q: How does one look into finding a behavior analyst or outpatient center that works via telehealth?

If your child already receives behavioral services, contact the agency or your therapist to inquire about telehealth therapy. If your child is not yet receiving services, try searching for ABA therapy in your area. Some agencies may advertise for telehealth services on their website; however many agencies have not been able to update their information yet. In those cases, it would be best to contact agencies you are interested in directly to ask about telehealth.

Here are some great additional resources for families looking for help: