How to talk about Coronavirus to a child with anxiety
The impact of schools and colleges shutting down across India in the wake of rising cases of Coronavirus is being felt even more acutely by families living with ADHD and autism as many of these children also experience anxiety disorder. We talked to some families to find out how they are coping with this.
For Brian Varghese Pradeep, a typical day is filled with activities outside the home. Now with the Coronavirus scare, his college and swimming lessons have come to a temporary halt and he is stuck indoors. The sudden change in schedule was not something that this 26-year-old with autism understood easily.
“Brian loves going out for all the activities and all that has abruptly stopped”, says mom Anita Pradeep. “This made him anxious and worried”.
Sudden change in schedule is disruptive for kids
The Coronavirus outbreak is scary for many of us. The steady news reports, the school shutdowns and event cancellations are making families feel on edge. For children with ADHD and autism, this may be more acute because of anxiety, which is a common associated condition.
“The main issue is routine change because schools shut down abruptly”, says Seema Lal, Cofounder of TogetherWeCan, a parent support group in Kerala. “There is also too much information going around which is not needed. Avoiding exposure to media reports may be a good idea because it does create anxiety”.
In Brian’s case, Anita sat him down and explained what he had to do to protect himself.
We explained this is a germ and steps had to be taken to ensure he does not get infected. We told him to wash his hands regularly and now he has taken it a step further and washes it all the time! So, we had to explain the importance of saving water. Since he cannot go out, we keep him engaged at home with activities like Scrabble, cooking and painting. He still keeps asking us when he can start going out and we have given a timeframe of April. He has accepted that deadline and his anxiety levels have come down. – Anita Pradeep, Advisory Committee Member at Autism Club, Ernakulam
Brian has now started mentioning this in his daily prayers. “Every day he prays that the scare will end in April and things will open again”, adds Anita.
Anita says it is important to talk to children in a calm and quiet manner. “I sat him down and made him count to five until he was calm. Once children get to that frame of mind, they are more receptive and the negative behaviour changes to positive”.
Some other tips to keep in mind:
- Keep a limit on the news they are exposed to. – Images of people wearing masks and hazardous suits can increase anxiety in everyone. So read news reports away from your children.
- Reduce conversation on the topic. – Unless your kids ask you directly, keep the conversation to a minimal. Emphasise that the home is the safest place to be.
- Follow a routine. – Put a daily home routine in place. Make sure your child wakes up and sleeps at the same time, set aside time for activities like painting and exercise. This makes the child feel secure.
At Preetha Anoop Menon’s household, the enforced quarantine due to Coronavirus has led to this mom fine-tuning her culinary skills. Sivaa, who has autism, loves to go out and enjoy treats. Because of the scare, that is now ruled out. So, Preetha is doing her best to ensure her son does not notice the change in routine by cooking something tasty every day. “Every day I bake some treat for him like pizzas or muffins, so he doesn’t feel like he is missing out”.
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