DR RADICA MAHASE
ANNA is very worried about her son Dominic who is ten years old and has autism. Dominic usually gets the common cold/flu very easily and because of sensory issues he does not take any kinds of medications. She took him to the doctor once and he became very agitated and violent and was scared for months after so doctor’s visits are not an easy option. She usually has to find creative ways to give him vitamins and tablets without him knowing.
She is always extremely careful with him because of the challenges she has to deal with when he becomes ill. So it’s understandable why she is very scared about the whole situation with covid19. Like other special needs parents, Anna wants to protect her child and to make sure that he is safe and healthy. Here are some suggestions for parents/caregivers who, like Anna, are trying to keep their special needs child (and children on the whole) as safe as possible.
Keep them away from public spaces – If you have to go to the grocery, mall etc, do not take them with you. If your child is accustomed to going to the supermarket with you or to running various errands with you, try to explain to them that you cannot take them. If it is difficult for them to understand or adjust to you no longer taking them, then try to do this without them knowing. The less agitated they become the better it is for both of you. At the end of it, you want to make sure that they are not in any public spaces where they can be exposed.
Limit their exposure to people on the whole – If you decide to have relatives and friends over at your house limit their interactions with your special needs child, especially if the person might be ill or have symptoms of the cold, etc. You do not know who has been exposed to whatever cold, flu, viruses, and you do not want to expose your child to anything.
Try to avoid outdoor play spaces – As much as you might want to take your child out to the play parks and beaches, please avoid this. Remember you are trying to avoid spaces where they could possibly come into contact with individuals who might be exposed to the virus. If you have outdoor space where you live then you can encourage them to play within this space.
Do not share drinks – As much as you want to encourage your special needs child to share with his/her siblings it might be wise to cut down on this for a bit, especially sharing with a sibling who might be outside of the house, interacting with people.
Encourage your child to wash hands often – Encourage them to wash their hands after they have played with toys, before they eat, etc. Make hand-washing into a fun activity so that they will want to do it. You can use songs such as “This the way we wash our hands…” or even colour pages and charts, short videos, coloured soaps to explain to them how to wash their hands. You can also help them do it or let them do it along with their sibling. The key is to make it into a fun activity so that they want to do it and they don’t feel like you are constantly forcing them to wash their hands.
Keep your home clean at all times with a special focus on “hot zones” – These are the areas that you child would spend most of his/her time. For example, if your child has a favourite space, play table/chair, then these should be cleaned more frequently. Also pay special attention to door knobs, handrails, etc, that they might touch regularly.
Make sure to clean all toys and objects that your child plays with are cleaned regularly – Many children with autism might be fixated on one toy or one object and they will constantly play with this. Ensure that these are cleaned regularly. You can make this cleaning process into a fun activity and let your child participate. For example, if a child plays with a specific block all the time, you can let him or her help you to “give the block a shower” while singing a song that your child might like.
These are just some guidelines to help you protect your child and your entire family.
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T