How to handle school closures and services for your child with autism

March 13, 2020

 

If your local school district closes during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, you may be faced with a number of obstacles. For children with autism, the school closure may mean disruption to learning support services your child receives at school.

Some states, such as New Jersey, have published guidance for school districts to being preparing a school health-related closure preparedness plan. This plan would outline how learning would be continued, and what tools they would use to accomplish it, in the event of a school closing.

The World Health Organization also published an action kit for families and schools for COVID-19 related closures

Other states, including Ohio, have published several checklists to help individuals/families, business, healthcare workers and others prepare

As always, please call our Autism Response Team at 1-888-AUTISM2 or email help@autismspeaks.org for questions and access to tools, resources and supports. For information specific to the coronavirus and the most up-to-date information on the situation, please visit CDC.gov and the CDC’s coronavirus information site.

First, prepare for childcare arrangements. 

  • No matter the length of the closing, you will need to arrange first and foremost to have your child supervised. If you are unable to take leave from work, or doing so would present financial hardship, reach out to your friends and family. Many families are arranging childcare sharing arrangements, where parents in two or more families take turns caring for a few children. Or, you may know a local parent or have a family member who does not work outside the home who could care for your child temporarily. 
  • Make sure to consider the support needs for all the children in any temporary arrangement to ensure everyone’s safety. 
  • Prepare information about your child’s support needs and successful learning and behavior strategies for anyone who will be caring for your child.

Then, talk to your child’s school about closing plans.

  • Your child’s school-based services will depend on the type of school closing. If learning is also not scheduled, such as for a short-term closure to deep clean, then those services may not continue during the closure. If the school uses virtual learning during a closure, then the school is legally required to continue providing services to your child, although they will need to be adapted to the new learning environment. For more details about your individual situation, refer to the Department of Education’s guidance on the type of closure in your school.
  • Reach out to your child’s IEP team and the school administrators to find out about plans for special education services in the event of a closure.
  • If needed, reach out to your child’s developmental providers for recommendations and backup plans for in-home services. 
  • To support your child’s learning while school is closed, you can also ask your child’s current providers for instructions and techniques you can use in your home. Talk to your service providers about their emergency plans.

The Household Checklist also includes some of the following recommendations:

  • Develop an emergency contact list and discuss emergency plans with your family, including extended relatives, as well as friends and neighbors you may include in your plan. Include names and numbers of everyone in your personal autism support network, as well as your medical providers, local law enforcement, emergency responders.
  • Contact local organizations who may be able to help if you need support.
  • Check and restock your household medical supplies, such as a thermometer, fever-reducing medications and other medications you may need for co-occurring medical conditions. You may want to include this as part of a emergency supply kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash and important documents. Locate your IEP if you have one, and any medical records or evaluations you may have related to autism. Your IEP is a federal document and can help you with making learning plans while schools are closed.
  • Ensure you have sufficient food and other household necessities, including preferred or non-allergenic foods and other items, to make it easier to avoid leaving home during times of restricted movement. 
  • Reach out to others to maintain social support for the whole family. Autism Speaks social media, social media groups for autistic people and their families, and other virtual support groups are some online resources for finding empathy and ideas while your family is homebound. Contact your local PTA (or Special Education PTA if you have one) to email the community and create a local or neighborhood database of families who need childcare, families whose children may be available to babysit or provide other childcare assistance.  

You may also find these resources helpful:

Autism Speaks advice on coping with a natural disaster includes many tips you may find helpful.

The National Association of School Psychologists’ COVID-19 information page offers resources in five languages and specific guidance for students with disabilities.

The Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network includes age-specific tips for helping children cope with stress

Many of Autism Speaks Tool Kits are available in several languages, and more are being translated to respond to family needs during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Follow the Department of Education's Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel.

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You can also reach the Autism Response Team by phone or email: 888-288-4762, en Espanol 888-772-7050, or help@autismspeaks.org.