The Autism Society of America has led a campaign to educate the public about autism spectrum disorder beginning with Autism Awareness Month in April 1970. The campaign has been instrumental in sharing knowledge and resources ever since.
With Autism Awareness Month in full swing, it’s a good time to recognize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has been as children and parents have had their worlds turned upside down.
The autism community has been especially impacted, as schedules and therapy routines have been askew.
Dr. Stephen Shore, a professor of special education at Adelphi University, is focused on responding to this global crisis with valuable resources for the autism community.
According to Shore, autism is a nonstandard way of perceiving, processing and interacting with the world. With the world looking completely different while society battles COVID-19, he said the most important thing to do is stick as closely to routines as possible.
“Parents, caregivers and others supporting autistic individuals can be most helpful by maintaining routines as closely as possible, clearly communicating changes in the way the person best understands and by taking care of yourselves,” said Shore.
Shore is also a primary contributor to Learn Autism, an app-based autism resource platform that is launching at the end of April. He currently provides information and resources on his website: drstephenshore.com.
One local mom has been instrumental in raising awareness and providing resources for parents in the Greater Lansing area and beyond. Cathy Blatnik is secretary and on the board of the directors for Mid-Michigan Autism Association, and her 15-year-old son, Dominic, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder shortly before he reached 3 years old. Dominic also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy and anxiety disorder.
Blatnik’s advice echoes Shore’s in that keeping a routine is important.
“The first week of the pandemic I felt like I had to fill every single minute with something for Dominic to do,” Blatnik said. “On the Friday of that week, he had an epileptic seizure. The second week, because I felt I had overwhelmed him, I had an enormous amount of ‘mom guilt’ about the seizure and let him do whatever he wanted. He sat around doing nothing because I didn’t give him any direction. The third week, I finally found the right balance of structure time and free time. Using a whiteboard solved the problem.”
Blatnik gave her son a whiteboard of tasks like “get dressed” and “brush teeth,” knowing her son’s sense of pride upon completion of tasks he could cross off was something that would help. It did. She also said getting outside at least once daily for fresh air and activities helps immensely.
Blatnik encouraged parents going through the same thing reach out to other parents through texting, email and Skype.
She also said the Mid-Michigan Autism Association has been working hard to provide information and resources through their email updates and social media. Those wanting to subscribe to the email list can send their information to Blatnik.
For additional information, visit autism-society.org/covid-19/.