Understanding autism in the time of Coronavirus

01 Jun 20
Understanding autism in the time of Coronavirus

Understanding autism in the time of Coronavirus

Our guest blogger, Maggie Butler, Inclusion Partner and one of our long-standing AET Partners at Essex County Council, offers advice and support for education professionals.

What a shock it has been to experience life with control taken away and no idea what will happen next!

Lockdown has made me think about human variation and behaviour in a different way. The increase of anxiety in the general population has caused people to change their behaviour quite dramatically.

Have you noticed people finding it hard to process lots of information? What is the effect of not being able to plan trips or holidays or when children will return to school?

For some autistic people, this means that the rest of society get to experience what daily life is like for them all the time!

The return to ‘the new normal’ will be hard for everyone but particularly hard for those who experience high levels of anxiety on a daily basis.

A high percentage of the autistic population report that anxiety is part of their daily lives and is affected by unexpected changes, new or unfamiliar environments and lack of structure and predictability.

In some cases, this can become more generalised leading to an almost constant ‘intolerance of uncertainty. This is very important when we consider transition back into school as this intolerance may have become embedded and school may be very different from the place they remember.

Remember that everyone may have an increased need to control their environment and avoid demands when highly anxious and this is no different for autistic children and young people.

There are lots of things we can do as school staff or parents to help and the Autism Education Trust can help too.

-Remember each person will be experiencing this differently and listen to what they have to say about what will help

-Think about The Four Key Areas of Difference: sensory, communication, social and processing needs may all be impacted and need problem-solving with the individual

-Focus on the positives and recall good experiences, using the young person’s special interests to engage and motivate.

I have been a specialist teacher autism lead and registered trainer with the Autism Education Trust for 5 years, successfully delivering all AET training modules in Essex schools and would highly recommend their wealth of resources and training packages. Many resources support management of anxiety by providing structure and predictability and explaining clearly what is happening and what will happen can be found at the AET website including free social stories and visual supports from the Tools for Teachers resource.

Coping with stress and anxiety is covered in depth in AET training modules, hearing from autistic young people themselves and their parents and school staff.  The use of visual approaches to understand and manage stress levels are suggested, such as scaling emotions, the stress bucket analogy and colour coded zones of regulation.

The importance of sensory breaks, calming activities and exercise are highlighted in the context of a calm, low arousal environment with clear, simple visual supports.

Transition back into school will need to be very carefully planned, with careful attention paid to the emotional wellbeing of everybody and using the above tools and resources can help.

‘If your setting works well for children with autism, it is likely to work well for everyone’

Maggie Butler

Inclusion Partner

Essex County Council