By: Dr. Francisco González, SER Psychologist from Puerto Rico, San Juan Center
Coping with the changes that occur during an emergency such as the one we are not living in as a result of COVID-19 is difficult for everyone, but can present a particular challenge for families that include one or more members with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders. It is important to remember that these people are also suffering from the effects of the disaster and require attention and support to manage their thoughts, emotions and behaviors appropriately.
- Take into consideration the child's level of development and comprehension skills before determining which strategies to use.
- Keep calm. Children perceive the emotional state and anxiety of those around them.
- When possible, use questions to identify the child's thoughts and emotions. Don't force children to talk.
- Use simple, clear and concise explanations to provide them with the information that is necessary or to clarify doubts that may arise.
- Avoid exposure to unnecessary information, including that provided in the media.
- Provide opportunities and space for the child to participate in activities that they enjoy.
- Maintain structure and usual routines as far as possible or develop them according to current circumstances, including periods for feeding, cleaning, sleeping and enjoying.
- When possible, provide explanations and support prior to significant changes, and monitor behavior and emotions as they occur.
- Using visual schedules can ease changes and transitions.
- Establish appropriate limits with respect to conduct, particularly with respect to those situations that present a potential risk to the health or safety of the minor.
- Be consistent and firm in implementing discipline and behavior management strategies, while promoting calm, tolerance, and physical and emotional safety.
- Identify sensory needs and activities that meet them.
- Recognize risk behaviors associated with particularities in sensory processing and take measures to avoid accidents.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.org
- Department of Health of PR: www.salud.gov.org.pr
- American Academy of Pediatrics: www.aap.org; www.healthychildren.org
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network: www.nctsn.org
- Child Mind Institute: www.childmind.org
- Understood: www.understood.org