#MYStayHome: 5 ways to help autistic children cope during the MCO

  • Children
  • Thursday, 26 Mar 2020

Naim Rafaie (red t-shirt) is getting more and more restless cooped up at home and his mother Feilina says that no amount of explaining can make him understand what is actually happening in the country at the moment. — Filepic

It is the first week of the country’s movement control order (MCO) and the government continues to emphasise the importance of staying home.

It’s hard for some Malaysians to be confined in their homes but it’s been even more challenging for families with special needs members.

Naim Rafaie Abdul Rahim, 24, has autism, and is getting more and more restless cooped up at home.

“No amount of explanation can make my only son understand what is actually happening in the country, ” says Naim’s mother Feilina Feisol, 54, who is also the National Autism Society of Malaysia’s chairman.

It is difficult for autistic children to adapt when there's a change in their daily routine.  — FilepicIt is difficult for autistic children to adapt when there's a change in their daily routine. — Filepic

People with autism or on the autism disorder spectrum (ASD) have sensory integration issues, and some cope with repetitive movements and adherence to sameness or routine. Change can be especially hard, and a disruption to their routine is many times more upsetting to individuals with autism because keeping to the same set of activity is one way they self-regulate.

Naim usually attends vocational classes on weekdays and the sudden change to his routine has been difficult for him to handle. Unable to cope, he had had some meltdowns at home.

“We hear stories of smashed furniture, TVs and Ipads, and how children are eating up all the food in the house from some parents of autistic children. Parents with infinite patience and creativity are also reaching their limits. Naim is so restless at home and it is difficult to calm him down, ” says Feilina, 54.

Try to make reading a fun activity for children during the MCO period. — FilepicTry to make reading a fun activity for children during the MCO period. — Filepic

On the Malaysia Autisme Facebook page, parents are sharing stories of how their special needs children are coping during this movement control order period.

One parent shared how his son missed their daily motorcycle rides. Another mother posted a drawing her son did because he couldn’t sleep. The 10-year-old misses his teachers and sisters, and he drew them.

Yet more parents shared stories of how their children have become overly anxious about Covid-19; one boy hid under his blanket.

But there were also stories of parents who have found creative ways to help their special needs children cope such as devising games and even creating a jogging path around their house. Some are conducting their own therapy sessions at home.

Rustina Ibrahim realises that she has to get her son to wash his hands, but it’s hard to get him to do so more than once or twice. So she made a game out of it. She wrapped soap shavings around his favourite toys, so he has to wash them and his hands to play.

Despite the challenges of keeping their children calm and occupied, parents are aware of the need to stay home and are trying their best. It’s still one week of MCO to go, if it is not extended, and parents will have to be even more resilient and resourceful in helping their children with autism or ASD cope.

Dr Hasnah offers families some tips for coping during the MCO period on her Facebook page. — FilepicDr Hasnah offers families some tips for coping during the MCO period on her Facebook page. — Filepic

Assoc Prof Dr Hasnah Toran, the programme director at Pusat Genius Kurnia, a government-run purpose-built centre for children with ASD, offers families some coping tips they can employ during the MCO period on her Facebook page.

  • Encourage children to watch the Papa Pipi: Kapten Kebenaran (Truth Captain) videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkmaU3Em49U) on Covid-19.
  • Come up with a simple story telling session on Covid-19, highlighting the dangers as well as the importance of staying safe at home.
  • Engage them with more home-based activities, and indoor exercises.
  • Use a visual timetable to explain daily activities.
  • Do intervention exercises.

If none of these approaches work to calm the child, Dr Hasnah – who has consulted the police – says parents could consider the option of bringing their child out of the house to calm him down.

“Bring the kids out only if you really need to. For example, if kids start hurting themselves or people around, ” says Dr Hasnah, who also has children with autism, in her Facebook post.

She reminds parents to bring along their child’s OKU card to show the police if the are stopped, and to explain the problems they are facing. She also advises that only one parent should take the child out and that they maintain social distancing while they are out.

“If the situation is uncontrollable, the children can be brought out to their favourite park for a jog or brisk walking. But only for a short period of time. Maintain social distancing.

“However, the police have the right to stop anyone from assembling at parks and other public places, ” explains Dr Hasnah, who has also been running a Facebook campaign teaching families how to toilet train their children during the MCO period.

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