Autism and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to neurodevelopmental disorders and are extremely common around the world. Depending on the severity of symptoms, parents have to supply many resources to provide children with the necessary activities within their prescribed therapies.
In autism, time plays a significant role in the chances of correcting behavioural incongruities and the ability to learn and socialise. Therefore, even during the period of forced isolation, it is essential to maintain the usual number of activities. We are going to talk about how parents can provide their children with comprehensive therapy at home.
4 Reasons Not to Refuse Classes for a Child with Autism, Even While in Quarantine
Self-isolation is not a reason to discontinue an autistic child’s usual activities. You can modify them to suit your new circumstances, but you will probably benefit from them just as much. You can practise with your specialist in an online format or organise your own steps with your support team (e.g. partner, grandparent or other children). These activities will allow, on the one hand, a decrease in the negative moments whilst isolated. On the other hand, you will not waste time when your child needs therapy, but, due to circumstances, you cannot leave your home.
The main thing to understand is that while you are at home, you can spend time effectively, without taking a break from classes and missing precious time, which is so important when teaching autistic children.
The advantages of home therapy for children with autism:
- Improving your skills for conducting therapy to feel more confident in this field.
- Reducing the costs associated with therapy carried out by a qualified specialist.
- Better communication and closer contact with your child.
- Setting daily goals (classes), which can help you structure your family routine and make your child more confident.
Autism Therapy Techniques You Can Use at Home
When you work with your autistic child at home, you can start with a few minutes, then gradually increase to 20–30 minutes a day as you progress. You can complete several steps throughout the day, and also organise classes spontaneously when you see that your child is in a positive frame of mind, and postpone or shorten them if the child is ‘not in the mood’.
During isolation, stress levels may be off the scale, even in neurotypical children, so with autistic children, with their increased sensitivity, and you will need to be even more patient. Flexibility, responsiveness and parental intuition are your main supporters in this role.
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Speech Therapy for Kids with Autism
Speech therapy is used to correct various types of speech disorders, teach speech comprehension, plus develop the ability to initiate dialogue. At the start, the child learns to follow simple speech instructions, and then the therapy is aimed at developing the ability to use speech constructively, name objects/experiences, and express their feelings/needs. To improve oral motor skills, the following exercises can be facilitated at home:
- Inflating soap bubbles or balloons.
- Drinking juice through a straw or using it to make soap suds.
- Sucking ice pops.
- Licking fingers, after they have been dipped in jam (lollipops are also a good option).
- Simulating various sounds (bird calls, animal noises, transport, etc.).
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Therapy at Home
Today, ABA therapy is one of the most common methods for regulating autism symptoms. Many experts believe that parents can learn both content and hands-on techniques for home practice and, in many cases, take back some control over family life.
ABA activities aim to help children learn new skills, expand their vocabulary and understand what is expected of them in social interactions. You can use both the practices that you do with your specialist or alternate them with some new techniques.
Although not all parents or specialists are unequivocal about ABA therapy, you can benefit from some useful activities at home, including:
- Sorting objects by colour (you can use a special set you have bought or use your own props – coloured big buttons, cubes, balls or geometric shapes cut out of coloured paper, etc.).
- Sorting emotions (guess the emotion game). You can cut out photos from magazines of people in different emotional states, and then ask your child to identify them.
- Completing a jigsaw puzzle (with an increasing number of pieces, according to the child’s age).
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)
PCIT is a combination of behavioural and game therapy. It is aimed at creating a sense of security for the child, encourages social behaviour, assists with control over negative emotions and corrects unfavourable behaviours, plus helps strengthen the emotional connection between the child and the parent.
Principles of PCIT are based on John Bowlby’s attachment theory, which asserts that a child needs a secure, continuous relationship with at least one ‘significant adult’ for comprehensive and trouble-free social and emotional development. Research has shown that the severity of autism is directly related to the quality of interaction between parents and their children.
The PCIT classes that you can do at home are as simple as possible. You need to allocate 15 minutes, during which no one will distract you or your child from each other. The aim of PCIT is to let the child direct your communication; for them to lead what you both are going to do. In this case, the parent should adhere to several rules:
- Praise correct behaviour.
- Do not criticise, take the initiative or give commands and instructions.
- Show interest and enthusiasm for everything the child offers or how they act.
- Describe what the child is doing at that moment, without asking questions.
Play Therapy for Autism
Play therapy is probably one of the most enjoyable things you can do at home with your child. It doesn’t require special training or qualifications, and you’ll enjoy the process, not to mention the result.
Here are a few ideas for activities to do with an autistic child at home during quarantine:
- Palms. Teach your child to clap their hands and to also play clapping games using your hands. To make the game more difficult, alternate your left and right hands and cross them. You can use musical accompaniment, then try to beat the rhythm by slapping your hands on your knees.
- Home bowling. You can use any handy items that are suitable as skittles. Bowling helps develop motor and concentration skills, plus awareness of the physical properties of objects.
- A house made of blankets. Utilise pillows, bedspreads, chairs and use a light source (lamp or garland). Every child, especially one with ASD, loves the feeling of their own cosy world, where they can hide and feel safe. Favourite books and toys enhance this feeling.
- Transformation. Help your child change into their favourite hero or animal. You can use special costumes or make them from old clothes, plus use face-painting and other props to achieve the image. You can simulate the various movements and traits that distinguish the character.
5 Physical Exercises for Autistic Children
Among other therapies, physical activities are one of the main methods of neuropsychological correction, in particular, they can improve symptoms in children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome). Also, exercise helps modulate and improve the immune system, and importantly it aids in the prevention of obesity.
In addition, exercise is good for reducing your child’s excessive activity and stress levels, plus it helps teach them to be aware of their body and control its movements. Physical exercises for autistic children are suitable for any age and level of development. They contribute to the development of motor skills, object tracking and understanding of rules, as well as improve social interaction.
While staying at home during quarantine, you can try some of these exercises:
- Put several different coloured balls in a line. Then, ask your child to kick a ball of a certain colour towards you or the wall. Also, these balls can be thrown into a box. You can also request one specific colour, or for the child to use different legs (left or right).
- Marching. You can start with foot movements, and then add steps and hand movements, increasing the range. To get a child interested in this exercise, you can perform it accompanied by a video recording of the changing of the guard. This activity promotes the development of imitation and self-control skills.
- Obstacle course. Draw a line with chalk or stretch out a rope, then suggest that the child walks along a path where you place boxes, pillows or stools as obstacles. They need to be stepped, jumped and crawled over or moved aside. At the end of the path, plan that the child receives some kind of reward. Invent a fascinating story to engage your child in this activity. This exercise develops coordination, plus the skill of sequence in actions, and also teaches them to achieve goals.
- Dancing is an easy way to engage your child in physical activity. Show them a few simple moves and ask the child to repeat them. Light-musical accompaniment, if it does not affect the child too much, can be an additional incentive for engagement.
- There are other simple, effective exercises that you can add to your home practice: crawling on all fours (exercise ‘bear’); jumping from an initial standing position to the position of the letter X, with your arms and legs spread in a star jump; performing circular movements of the hands from the shoulder, etc.
Stay in Touch with Your Therapist and Other Families with Autistic Children
Self-isolation during quarantine should not be a reason for your family to cut off social contact. You can keep in touch with your doctor online. You can also communicate with other parents of autistic children on forums and social networks to share your progress, ask for advice, receive support and learn new things in the field of therapy for children with autism. It is also a good reason to share experiences and various life hacks on how to spend time in quarantine, which benefits autistic children, and to provide love and support, despite external circumstances.
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List of References
Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children in select countries worldwide as of 2018 (per 10,000 children).
Parents’ Experiences of Home-Based Applied Behavior Analysis Programs for Young People with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 39(1):42-56; July 2008.
The Effectiveness of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for Families of Children on the Autism Spectrum. Marjorie Solomon, Michele Ono, Susan Timmer & Beth Goodlin-Jones. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, volume 38, pages 1767–1776 (2008).
Comparative Effectiveness of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for Children with and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder. Zlomke KR, Jeter K. J Autism Dev Disord. 2019 Mar 12.
The Relation between Severity of Autism and Caregiver-Child Interaction: a Study in the Context of Relationship Development Intervention. Hobson JA, Tarver L, Beurkens N, Hobson RP. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2016 May;44(4):745-55.
Autism and attachment difficulties: Overlap of symptoms, implications and innovative solutions. McKenzie R, Dallos R. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017 Oct;22(4):632-648.
Effects of Exercise on Cognitive Performance in Children and Adolescents with ADHD: Potential Mechanisms and Evidence-based Recommendations. Lasse Christiansen, Mikkel M. Beck, Niels Bilenberg, Jacob Wienecke, Arne Astrup, and Jesper Lundbye-Jensen. J Clin Med. 2019 Jun; 8(6): 841.
Exercise and the Regulation of Immune Functions. Simpson RJ, Kunz H, Agha N, Graff R. Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2015;135:355-80.
Medical Advisor, Swiss Medica doctor