neurodiverse child

Helping Your Neurodiverse Child Adhere to Social Distancing

More than 500,000 children have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Overall, they are less likely to contract the virus and tend to have better outcomes when they do. 

However, some children, especially those with underlying conditions, can get sick. As the summer ends, many communities are debating if and how children can go back to class, be it physically or virtually.

Social distancing can be difficult for anyone, especially a neurodiverse child. Continue reading to learn more about the challenges that may arise and how to face them.

Challenges Faced By Neurodiverse Children and Their Families

There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to raising a neurodiverse child. By definition, they show patterns in behavior and learning that vary from the average.

These variations are generally the result of naturally-occurring diversity within the human genome.

Despite this, it would be remiss not to recognize the challenges many have to deal with on a daily basis. Some require round the clock help that can put a serious strain on even the most patient caretaker.

Case by Case

As the name suggests, the range of behaviors neurodiverse children display is, well, diverse. 

Certain classifications are used to make it easier to describe children with similar personalities. 

You can’t brush with broad strokes. But these descriptions can help people begin to understand and share their experiences. Here are just a few of them.

Autism Spectrum

Children with some form of autism have challenges with social skills and communication. They often present repetitive behaviors and thrive in a structured routine environment. 

While they might have connections with fewer people than the average person, most value their friends and family deeply.

The pandemic has changed the way we all live. This can be extremely stressful for a child with autism. The use of social stories that incoportate new procedures into their life can often help a child with autism to adjust.  

Attention-Deficit and Hyperactivity (ADHD)

Children with ADHD and ADD might have a hard time learning and/or following new commands. This is especially true when it comes to social distancing.

As soon as they see a friend or something cool, a person with ADHD might just have to approach. It takes constant reminders and patience.

Trauma

Someone who has experienced trauma in the past might be triggered simply by the thought of COVID-19.

Of course, it’s scary for us all. But imagine how you’d feel if you had a bad memory of being hospitalized for a serious infection. Hearing about it and watching the news could be triggering.

Be mindful of this when watching the TV or talking to them about COVID-19.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is characterized by stressful thoughts and fears (obsessions) that result in particular, repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Someone who is well organized might be labeled as “OCD” but this is misleading and insensitive.

Children with OCD tend to fear contamination. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help them recognize what is and what is not under their control.

One is in control of washing their own hands, wearing a mask, practicing respiratory hygiene, and social distancing. Reassure them that, in fact, schools are now cleaner than ever thanks to constant disinfecting.

Tips for Helping Children During a Pandemic

These are uncertain times. As scary as watching the news can be, imagine being a child and trying to process it. You have to be really careful about exposing your child to distressing information.

Children aren’t naturals when it comes to social distancing. Most kids get annoyed by wearing a mask after a while.

It requires clear communication, supervision, and a couple of extra measures to be safe.

Have an Honest Conversation

This can be the hardest part. Given all the uncertainty, explaining the situation to your children is a daunting task.

It might not be a pleasant conversation. Children with neurodiversity may tend to hyperfocus. You have to be careful with the words you use.

They can develop severe anxiety from over-worrying about a virus lurking in every corner. Explain to them how someone can get affected and steps you can take to stay safe. The goal is to get the message across without frightening them. There is a link on our website under the tab resources that help parents read a child friendly book educating children about COVID.

Handwashing

Handwashing is vital for everyone. Most people don’t wash their hands well enough, pandemic or not.

You and your children should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. Have them recite the alphabet, count, or sing a short song (like Happy Birthday) to practice washing for long enough.

Be sure they know to get between the fingers, under the nails, and the backs of the hands, too.

Helping Children Social Distance

Now that you’ve spoken with them a little about the virus, it might be easier to explain the importance and rationale of social distancing. This can be difficult for them not to be able to see people they were used to seeing.

Fun props, like hula hoops, are useful to practice. Teach children what social distancing looks and feels like.  Walk toward them and have them tell you when you’re close enough. Have them walk towards you and you do the same.  Encourage them by positively reinforcing adequate social distancing.

Leading by example is good. If, by chance, you do go out with them, let them see you distancing and tell why and how you are moving differently (as in staying six feet apart).

Physically Apart but Together in Heart

Does your child miss seeing their friends and family? There are options to connect and socialize without putting people at risk. 

The easiest option to schedule a telephone or video call. They’re a great, safe way for them to converse and see their buddies.

It takes more effort but visiting someone in person can be possible, depending on the situation where you live. It’s just hard to travel and stay 6 feet away at all times. That’s why wearing masks are a must.

The Masks  

As we said, masks are important for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Again, explain this point to your children.

It’s hard to resist, but tell them it’s not a good idea to touch their face and continue to remind them.

Some children with neurodiversity display tactile defensiveness. Many will throw tantrums and outright refuse to wear one. If possible, patiently desensitizing them by wearing masks is ideal. 

Tips for Masks

You might be able to reason with a child that doesn’t like a mask. Another option is to make it more attractive to them. Also, send them to school with one or two extras so they can switch when its get’s sweaty.

Remind them that many superheroes wear masks and that it’s one way of contributing to the greater good. Also, children might feel better about wearing a mask with a cool design or relatable cartoon character.

In the end, some children will never wear a mask and they shouldn’t be punished or shamed for it. Forcing them to could be traumatic. Exceptions may be necessary.

Raising a Neurodiverse Child

A neurodiverse child can be quite challenging at times. It’s important for parents to participate in self care so they have the ability to take a step back and appreciate the strengths of their neurdiverse child. 

Know that you aren’t alone. For more personalized advice, contact this clinic and speak to our team of Psychologists.

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