Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, is known for her innovations in developing more humane methods of handling livestock, and is also one of the world’s leading advocates for people living with autism.
This month, Grandin shared seven strategies for both parents and children with autism struggling to cope with the disruption of their daily routines caused by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in school closures throughout the U.S. Grandin, who has autism herself, understands that transitioning and adapting to change is a major challenge for many people on the autism spectrum, particularly children and young adults.
“The best thing you can do as a parent is to get your son or daughter on a schedule, and put structure in all of your lives, to keep their minds and bodies active throughout the day,” Grandin was quoted as saying in a report by Parade.com. “That schedule will help an autistic child stay focused and on task. We don’t want them laying around sleeping all day and we don’t want them slouching around in their pajamas.”
For parents, Grandin stressed the importance of maintaining a stable routine for their children that is similar to the schedule they would follow under normal circumstances.
“Convey to your children that they are going to get up and get ready for school, just like we always have, even though we are doing it at home,” Grandin said. “After breakfast and getting dressed, go and do schoolwork and homework. Have lunch and then after lunch get some exercise by going for a walk, as long as you practice social distancing. I advise working on the schoolwork in the morning when the child is fresh. Then tell them, ‘we are going to have lunch together, and then we can do a board game or a puzzle. We will take a walk or do some other exercise.’ And then he or she can have one hour of downtime on a device where the child gets to pick what he wants to watch. Just one hour a day. I don’t like binge-watching, so I recommend maybe one or two episodes of a favorite show a day. I also feel like us living together in such close proximity is like living in the space station in which everyone requires their alone time to read a book or work on their laptops—we all need a bit of this as well.”
As for herself, Grandin said she is coping with the situation by keeping herself occupied with her scientific research and updating the third edition of her book on improving animal welfare. She added that reading news about ways that existing medications can be repurposed to fight Coronavirus has made her less fearful. Grandin recommended that parents do their best to avoid displaying fear and anxiety to their children, and to present the health crisis in language their children can understand.
“We can compare it to a storm that you have to hunker down for; except this is a longer storm,” Grandin said. “Explain that we will have a schedule, we will do our work, schoolwork or homework, play some games and watch movies as a family, and when we do things together it will help keep us safe.”
For children unsettled by the crisis and its impact on their daily lives, Grandin recommended that parents do their best to relieve anxiety by putting things in perspective.
“[For kids worried about canceled plans, school activities or future vacations], you explain that Disneyland is closed right now,” she said. “Movie theaters are closed right now. I went by a movie theater the other day and the little glass cases where they put the posters were empty. You explain that our stuff got canceled, too. Our work and my speaking engagements were canceled. You’ve got people who can’t pay their bills. The people I feel the sorriest for are the ones who are financially strapped. We have storms and floods that are dangerous, and we have to take precautions and we have to do this right now. But it will get solved.”