Supporting your child with a mental health disorder and ASD during COVID-19

Posted on 04/30/20 08:13:am Supporting kids with ASD during COVID-19

 

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Talking about the uncertainties of COVID-19 and adapting to a new schedule can be hard for any child, but when you have a child struggling with a mental health disorder like OCD, anxiety, or depression, and the child is on the autism spectrum, it’s even harder. 

Dr. Joshua Nadeau, clinical director at Rogers’ Tampa location, answers some common questions parents are asking to help their children cope.

How do I talk with my child about the uncertainty of not knowing when things will go back to “normal”?

Dr. Nadeau emphasizes parents should be “honest and balanced” when discussing our new reality with their child. He gives an example of what a conversation could look like that addresses uncertainty, but does not dwell on those feelings: “I don’t know when things are going to go back to normal, or what normal will look like when we get there. Sometimes I feel unsure and even a little scared about that, and I don’t like feeling that way. But I know that even though that feeling will come and go, it isn’t going to hurt me. And what I need to focus on right now is making sure I’m taking care of myself, you, and our family.”

How do I go about changing the daily routines my child has become accustomed to?

There are a few important points that we should discuss with our children to help them understand the need for new routines, according to Dr. Nadeau:

  • Explaining the importance of social distancing
  • Discussing the need to make changes to daily routines, including school, playdates with friends, parent jobs, etc.
  • Describing how the new routines might look, such as going to the grocery store
  • Remind your child of your household routines that are not changing, such as getting ready for bed, mealtime schedule, and chores.

How do I help my child cope with anxiety related to all these changes?

Dr. Nadeau explains, “Much of the anxiety surrounding change comes from a feeling of losing control or helplessness as the routines we’ve relied on no longer work.”

He shares a few examples of how to respond:

  • Explain to your child that it’s completely normal to feel anxious when things are changing.
  • Our routines are designed to have our needs met based upon our society’s rules. When those rules change, such as when stay-at-home and social distancing orders are in place, that means our old routines don’t work any longer and we have to make new routines to meet our needs.
  • Remind your child that their “normal” routines didn’t always feel normal and they may not have even liked them until you got used to them. Getting used to these new routines will be a similar process.

Additional resources that can provide support for you and your child during the COVID-19 pandemic include Autism Speaks and Centers for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD).

Can my child still receive treatment during this time, and what do I do if my child’s mental health disorder symptoms become worse?

“It’s extremely important that you maintain contact with your child’s mental health provider, even if your child seems to be ‘doing fine.’ If the provider is able to continue offering services via telehealth, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment, even if for just a ‘check in’,” says Dr. Nadeau. “You and your child might even find it easier and less stressful to virtually meet with a provider compared to all steps involved with getting to and from the visit.”

If you don’t currently have a mental health provider for your child, Anxiety and Depression Association of America and International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation are resources that can help.

Rogers Connect Care

Rogers recently launched a new telehealth treatment option through Rogers Connect Care for patients who would benefit from specialized partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient levels of care. Learn more about our telehealth services and request a free, confidential screening, or call 800-767-4411.

“This time right now that we’re all living is like nothing we’ve ever seen,” says Dr. Nadeau. “But what’s most important right now for you and your child is remembering to validate their emotions and involve them as much as possible in discussions surrounding these unprecedented times.”

Call 800-767-4411 or go to rogersbh.org to request a free screening.