COVID-19 Tips for Caregivers of Individuals with FASD

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COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that can be spread from person to person through small water droplets from the nose and mouth. There are a number of preventive health measures that you can implement to reduce the risk of infection or transmission. However, preventive health practices can be difficult to implement in a home with children, particularly individuals with FASD. Challenges with sensory regulation, attention, memory, and emotional regulation make it difficult for children with FASD to understand and implement preventive health practices. The social distancing measures that have been put in place can result in feelings of depression, stress, confusion, and anxiety. This blog outlines some tips for caregivers to help you implement preventive health practices in your home.

Explain COVID-19 to your child

Most children will have already heard of the coronavirus or realized that a number of changes have been put in place over the past few weeks. This is a good opportunity to address their fears and concerns and to correct any misinformation your child may have heard. Ask your child what they’ve heard about COVID-19 and how they feel about it. Address their feelings while remaining calm and reassuring. Use developmentally appropriate language and place a strong focus on the preventive measures that have been put in place for their safety. Some organizations have developed stories and workbooks to help explain COVID-19 to children.

Set a new routine 

Individuals with FASD thrive with a set routine in place, but social distancing measures like school closures and event cancellations have caused some disruptions to your daily routines. 

  • Try to build your new routine with elements from your old routines. 
    • Maintain current sleep schedules to ensure your children are getting the rest they need and to make the return to your normal routine easier.
    • Eat the same meals you would usually eat on a daily basis at the same time as you usually would eat them (i.e., breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks).
    • Do you know when your child has outdoor play time at school or in daycare? Try and schedule your outdoor activities during these times.
    • Do you know when your child eats lunch or has snack breaks while in school or at daycare? Try and schedule your snacks and lunches to be at the same time. 
  • Plan a set schedule of activities throughout the week. Block out set times for activities, meals, downtime, screen time, games, social interaction, and more. 
  • Involve your children in the planning process by sitting down with them to make a list of potential projects or activities that you can do throughout the week. 
  • Incorporate preventive health measures, such as handwashing, into your routine (i.e., we wash our hands before and after we eat our meals).

Prominently display protection reminders 

Display visual cues like “handwashing pictures” in prominent areas to remind your children of the steps of the handwashing process.

Manage sensitivities

Individuals with FASD sometimes experience hypersensitivity, which means they may react more strongly to sensory stimuli than others. The scent of some soaps or disinfectants, the temperature of the water, and the feel of some towels or tissues may cause a sensory overload. Be aware of your child’s sensitivities and do your best to accommodate them. 

Give direct and positive health instructions

Give a direct and timely instruction, such as “Go wash your hands now”. Remove any unnecessary words like “please” or place them at the end of the sentence. Also provide positive instruction. State what you want your child to do, rather than what not to do. For example, say “Cough into your elbow” rather than saying “Don’t cough in your hands”. 

Make preventive health fun 

Turn preventive health measures into a game or a fun activity rather than a serious chore for your child to complete. Have them sing a song for 20 seconds every time they wash their hands. 

Monitor your child’s health

Some individuals with FASD have hyposensitivity, which means that they may not feel pain and discomfort in the same way that other people do. Monitor their health regularly for signs and symptoms of respiratory illness, including fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. 

Assign colours or symbols 

Individuals with FASD are often challenged with the concept of ownership. Assign colours or symbols to personal items like toothbrushes and towels to indicate which item is theirs to avoid potential transmission.   

Practice calming techniques

Social distancing measures may be extremely challenging for your child and your family, as routines change, emotions are heightened, and you spend more time in closer quarters. Be prepared for potential emotional outbursts resulting from sensory overload. Practice calming techniques that reduce stimulation without punishment, such as: 

  • Providing a “comfort corner” or sensory deprived environment where your child can go to self-regulate and calm down (i.e., a tent or bean bag chair with a blanket and noise cancelling headphones). 
  • Wrapping your child in a blanket and repeat “calm down” over and over again.
  • Providing oral stimulation (i.e., crunchy pretzels, applesauce, chewing gum, etc.).
  • Encouraging muscle movement (i.e., provide a large pail full of dried beans and have them dig through to find the three marbles hidden inside the beans). 

Keep in mind that individuals with FASD are unique. The challenges that your family face and the approaches that you use won’t necessarily be the same as another’s. Remember that you know your family best! Trust in your ability to support them.

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