What should the autism community know about the coronavirus outbreak?

March 4, 2020

The situation around the current spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is changing rapidly, so make sure you stay informed by visiting the CDC’s information page regularly. 

We care deeply about the well-being of our community, and we urge everyone to follow best practices to stay safe and healthy during this time.

washing hands to help prevent coronavirus

In general, the best way to protect yourself or your family members looks very similar to best practices for all people to prevent other viral illnesses, such as seasonal flu.

Healthy habits can help protect you and your family. This includes good handwashing, limiting contact with people who are sick and keeping an appropriate distance from others.

To help prevent coronavirus the CDC recommends:

  • Use good handwashing hygiene. Wash your hands frequently with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you can’t get to soap and hot water.
  • Avoid contact with others who are ill. Viruses such as COVID-19 spread through close contact.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth, and remind family members – especially children – of the importance of this important safeguard.
  • If you are feeling unwell, stay home. If you must go out, use a mask over your nose and mouth to prevent spreading your illness.
  • Use a tissue to cover any coughs or sneezes, and discard immediately. If a tissue is not available, use your elbow.
  • Disinfect common surfaces where a virus could survive, such as doorknobs, railings and light switches. 

If you are caring for a child or family member with autism, it’s important to talk with them about coronavirus to ensure they have the information they need, but without unnecessarily frightening them. Expert guidance for talking about frightening events also applies: 

  1. Talk with your children before they hear about it elsewhere, so you can understand what they know and provide facts appropriate to their age and understanding.
  2. Communicate in a way that your child prefers, such as pictures or stories. This flu teaching story may be helpful.
  3. Allow your child to process the information. That may mean they “play out” or talk about fearful topics, but you can be on hand to reassure them and answer questions.
  4. Communicate with your support system, including school contacts, caregivers and support groups.
  5. Be on the lookout for changes in routine or other signs of distress. Your child may need additional supports if they are feeling stressed or anxious.
  6. Be a source for reassurance and positivity to help your child feel safe through frightening situations. 

If someone in your home does become ill, the CDC also offers guidance for caregivers in the home environment if flu-like symptoms develop. Some highlights include:

  • The sick family member should stay home, except to get medical care. Call ahead to the doctor’s office to alert them you are coming. The sick person should wear a disposable mask to reduce the risk of infecting others.
  • You and the sick person should wear new disposable face masks when in the same room. Encourage good air flow with an open window, if weather allows. Wear gloves when in contact with any items that may have been contaminated by contact with saliva, mucus or other bodily fluids. Dispose of gloves and face masks after each use. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly, wearing protective gloves and washing items at the highest temperature allowed on the label. Clean your hands after handling laundry in contact with the patient.
  • Keep the sick person away from others, in a specific room and away from the rest of the family. If available, a separate bathroom for the sick person is recommended. This also includes separate eating and self-care items, such as cups, utensils, towels and bedding. All items should be washed thoroughly with soap and water after use.
  • Make sure the patient covers sneezes and coughs with a tissue. Dispose of used tissue in a lined trash can and immediately wash hands, or use hand sanitizer if handwashing isn’t available.
     

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