Autism Spectrum Disorder - Coping with Change and Uncertainty

  • Maintain a consistent schedule
  • Utilize visual supports
  • Maintain contact with your providers

Given the current crisis with COVID-19, there are a number of uncertainties that are facing families and individuals with autism. Many people with autism are directly impacted by disruptions in their usual activities, such as school, medical services, behavioral interventions, speech interventions, and job placements. Individuals are also impacted by increased stress in the environment and increased stress in their homes as their communities fall sick.

Coping with Change

We know that when you have autism spectrum disorder, coping with change is hard. You and your family have worked together in the past on a daily schedule or plan that has helped you function at your best. Working together with your loved ones, you may be able to plan a new daily schedule within your home environment.

There are ways to help you do this. Think back to what your daily schedule was like when you were at school or work. Plan your day similarly, including having a healthy and consistent sleep pattern, as we know that adequate sleep helps people cope with stress. If your school day typically started with breakfast, academics, and gym, plan to have similar time allotted during your day at home.

This is also a great time to work on skills/habits that you may not have had time for in the past, including adding daily physical activity in your schedule. This could be as simple as doing exercises in your room. This is also a great time to work on daily living skills, such as household chores or managing one’s space/room.  

Learning New Skills

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also new skills to work on for individuals with autism. These skills include how to practice social distancing and hand hygiene.  These skills may be more challenging for individuals with autism, particularly if they struggle with understanding non-verbal cues that are often associated with social distancing and hygiene. 

Utilizing visual prompts and supports to learn these skills will be important in breaking down these skills into their individual components.  These skills can also be learned through online platforms including this video teaching story from the University of Miami as well as information from the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, which includes visual support documents for both social distancing and hand hygiene

Be Prepared

Planning is everything.

Right now, many of the services that individuals with autism spectrum disorders utilize, including behavioral interventions, medical management, and speech therapy may have limited availability.  Find out if your provider offers the option of telephone or online visits. If they do, utilize these options to stay in contact with your providers and work together with them to decide what treatment strategies you may be able to work on with them.

Some behavioral interventions may be able to shift to a parent-caregiver training approach. Your physicians may be able to continue to help you optimize your medication regimens and provide medical guidance during this time, including when and how to utilize higher levels of care, such as emergency rooms, if needed. They may also be able to provide you with additional guidance on how to obtain testing or how to accompany your family members with autism to the hospital if this is necessary. Also, the Autism Alliance of Michigan continues to provide its Navigator program, which serves to work one-on-one with each family to help them navigate and overcome the many barriers they face when trying to access care and support for their loved one affected by autism.