Keeping autistic children safe in a health crisis

Child blowing her nose, coronavirus

As I sit here reading recent news about the coronavirus, I am in two minds.

Firstly, I remind myself to think realistically about the situation as, yes flu is a bigger killer each year and yes our chances of being infected in the UK right now are fairly low.  But, on the flip side of all that, this is a travel blog and we travel. Part of the point of my blog is to encourage others to travel also despite autism and to give tips to those that want to. 

Our plans for this summer were to go East. We generally travel to Europe, the Arctic Circle or America and I really wanted to show my kids the rest of the world. We were going to take five weeks out of the summer to travel to Tokyo, China, Thailand and Malaysia. Now, in light of the current crisis and the fact I am travelling with an autistic child, and despite the fact this may all have passed by then, we will probably wait for this trip and instead make our way back over to the United States. That doesn’t mean to say we won’t head East next year. My decision is based on flights and prices, as the plan would be to only travel that way once which means I would want to include all the countries including China, and there is just no way to know right now if that will be a possibility.

So the question that has been on my mind, as I read about more and more cases in the UK and the possibility of a whole plane load of infected people going about their daily lives is how do we protect our children as best we can from contracting this, and other diseases. Obviously this is whilst being realistic that chances of contraction right now are relatively low.

The health advice is to wash hands frequently and not touch your face. “But my child licks hand rails” I hear some of you thinking. “How can I stop my child touching their face when they put everything in their mouth?”

The answer is we can only try to do as much as we can to minimise risk so here are some ideas, that may or may not work for your child:

1. Incorporate more regular hand washing into your child’s routine. 

Autistic children are often routine led. Make hand washing a part of that routine. If they have a visual timetable, include it frequently. If they do the same thing each day, add it. It might take a couple of weeks but it can soon be as much a part of a routine as eating. 

2. Use visual aids

For years we have had a great visual aid in our bathroom with step by step instructions on how to wash hands. My son, at 14, has finally got the idea and will always wash his hands well but for many years I prompted him to follow the visual directions so he could learn exactly what to do. These are inexpensive on ebay or easily made if you are a little artistic!

3. Increase bath times

As a parent who has to physically fight my autistic child into the bath or shower whilst he sounds like I am trying to murder him, I realise this is only realistic for those that don’t mind or even love baths.

4. Provide alternative things to chew.

If your child constantly chews things, consider getting them purpose made chew toys and necklaces and encourage them to chew these instead. Wash and disinfect the items regularly to minimise risk.

5. Clean more than usual.

This idea is the least fun. We are exhausted and the kids are up all night and a lot of us are also trying to hold down some form of work and cleaning is the last thing we want to do but get some anti bacterial wipes or sprays and do a quick once over of surfaces, door handles, light switches and toys every evening.

6. If travelling minimise risk.

Teach your child at home first using cue cards for hand washing and use the same cards. Carry hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes. Be vigilant and use the above when your child touches things. Watch them carefully. All we can do is minimise risk as best we can. 

7. Avoid busy or crowded areas.

To be fair, if your child is like mine then you probably already do this!

8. Bribery…I mean reward

Give small prizes for hand washing or any other necessity. Use reward charts if your child will respond to these but often immediate small rewards are easier to understand.

9. Teach your child to use tissues

Again, if you need to use visual aids, social stories or cue cards. Even if it seems like an impossible task we can try to teach children to use a tissue to wipe their nose, then dispose of it and wash their hands. If they can’t, we need to do it for them.

10. Cover mouths when coughing or sneezing

Again, this, for some may be a tricky one and we can only manage to teach our children to the best of their understanding. Try using simple social stories and visual aids about covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze and washing their hands afterwards.

Obviously if the situation gets worse and there is a need for masks and periods of quarantine then we need to follow guidelines and teach our children to do what is needed the best we can. We can prepare our children as much as we can for this. Consider buying a mask or two now or look at photos together of people wearing them to familiarise your child with them. If you don’t already, have stay at home days every so often so you have a familiar routine that doesn’t involve leaving the house. 

Should I tell my autistic child about the virus?

It is going to depend entirely on the individual child and their age and level of understanding as to how much, and to what level of, information you tell them and you will know your child best. You will be able to gauge the best thing to do for your own child. There will likely be children already who know what’s going on in the world and are very worried about the virus. My daughter right now is paranoid she will catch it and worries a lot. We need to be honest with our children. Tell them as it is in a way they can understand. Give them all the facts, otherwise if the situation increasingly gets worse they will think they have been lied to. Reassure children with facts about numbers and the current low chances but also encourage them to take precautions. Obviously tailor the amount of information and the way you deliver it to the individual child.

If you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you would like to read more then feel free to follow my blog or like my Facebook pagewhich I keep up to date with new posts as they are written. You can also find me on Twitter @KidsOnTour1 and now onYoutube – subscribe to my channel for upcoming videos!

Published by Autism Kids on Tour - Autism without limits

I have two kids and love to show them the world. We dont let autism limit us in our adventures! I write about our adventures and include tips on how suitable activities were for children with autism. I also write more autism specific posts.

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