ASD, COVID-19 and ABA: Some high-level considerations for parents and caregivers

Intro: This podcast is brought to you by the LeafWing Center. Helping children and families since 1999. Brought to you by the Clinical Treatment team at the LeafWing Center, this is the Autism Parent Helper Podcast.

Welcome to the Autism Parent Helper podcast. My name is John Lubbers and I’m a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the LeafWing Center. For today, we want to take a high level overview of some of the things to think about when considering the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, ASD (autism spectrum disorders) and Applied Behavior Analysis. As we say over and over in our culture right now, this is the new normal, at least for the foreseeable, the immediate future. So we thought we would do a brief overview of how we could offer some information to this new normal that we’re all experiencing. This is the first of a series of several podcasts that will really specifically address the Novel Coronavirus and Autism Spectrum Disorders and ABA and how they all intersect. Today’s podcast is really meant to be a high level overview for parents and caregivers or anybody who has a loved one who has ASD or developmental disability and receives ABA or who is just living in today’s world with a developmental disability.

These are the things that we want to bring to discussion, hopefully will kind of shed some light on some subjects and some considerations that we need to have. And then, like I said, we’ll do a deeper dive in later podcasts that will address some of these areas that we bring up today in greater detail. The first thing obviously that all of us are really well aware of is this idea of wearing a mask it’s pretty prevalent depending on where you are in the world, where you are in the country and where you are in your state, your county, or however your government local or national is approaching things. It’s likely that at some point or another, you might have been requested to wear masks or you might be requested to wear them again in the future, depending on how things go. So with respect to that, there are two essentially it started with really, okay.

What does wearing a mask mean? Well, one is we can look at it from the perspective of first and foremost. We have our individual that our loved one who has a developmental disability or autism spectrum disorder and who may be now being asked to wear it a mask that is at school or a adult vocational program or going into the grocery store. What have you so perspective or consideration number one is okay, the person that’s important to me in my life. I need to think about a mask, them wearing a mask. If they’re going to be out in the community or partaking in school or an adult program or something of that nature, depending on where you live and what’s your government, your municipality, or what have you is requiring of you. This may be a reality if that’s the case, we need to start thinking about this.

Okay. Does my loved one wear one without a problem? Or do I need to think about maybe working on a program to help them or asking my autism professional, my behavior analyst to assist with that? And so there’s a variety of things. This is one of the followup topic areas that we’ll go into about sort of mask wearing, looking at some of the literature out there, getting some ideas, discussing some of the things that have been done in relevant literature because there’s not a lot that we’ve already looked into and seen that’s specific to mask wearing. And these masks specifically to contain the spread of germs and contaminants. So that’s consideration number one, with respect to the mask consideration. Number two will be, does my loved one or the one that I’m concerned with teaching, working with supporting, taking to school, et cetera, would they be comfortable seeing masks on other people?

And there’s a probably fairly significant portion of people out. There are individuals that may be a little uncomfortable with that then may cause something of a fear reaction at maybe worst case scenario. And maybe at the best case scenario, it might be something that would potentially confuse them would be something like I don’t understand. Now I’m used to seeing a face that looks like this. Now I see a face that has a mask on the bottom part. Their nose is covered, their mouth is covered. I don’t know what to look at. I don’t get to see lips moving. So there’s mask issues on other people and how it intersects or segways with language in communication and other big picture area that we want to kind of think about is the area of social distancing.

And this is an interesting concept and obviously like we’ve said earlier, that relevant to our times right now, and at least for the foreseeable future, where most areas are recommending that we do social distance, we stay a minimum of six feet away from each other and how this will impact us. This is complicated even for neuro-typical people. We struggle with that when we’re walking, when we’re in deep thought or thing, we’re at the grocery store, we’re thinking about, am I supposed to get chicken breasts without bones or with bones? And we’re in deep thought, pondering those types of things for the recipe. We may momentarily forget about how close we’re standing to the person next to us. So even for us, it’s difficult to really think about social distancing and how we can maintain that at all times, which is what’s recommended to us now projected into somebody with a developmental disability and or autism spectrum disorder.

And maybe somebody who is possible has some difficulties perspective taking or managing multiple things at the same time, keeping two things and action at the same time. These are things that we need to consider as well. Teaching social distancing. Historically, we’ve typically looked at working on teaching social skills and being social in approaching people and talking to them and engaging them. Now we’re almost kind of looking a little bit at a, maybe I don’t want to say the opposite, but now let’s refine that we still want to be social, but now we have a new set of rules and that’s, you know, being six feet apart, not invading that personal space bubble, which we may or may not have, have had a loved one in the past. Who’ve had some difficulty maintaining that personal space bubble. And then thinking about this in terms of the different contexts, again, like we’ve said, if your loved one is going to school, that’s one thing, you not only does the person need to consider where they are, but now there’s 20, 30, a hundred other kids, other students that they’ll need to be aware of to kind of maintain that six foot social distance.

They’ll have to figure out, okay, I need to ask a question of a teacher. I need to approach her or his desk at the front of the classroom, or my teacher’s going to come over to me at my desk. And how am I going to maintain the six feet social distance, but still ask the question. And so there’s a lot of complex things now that have kind of floated up into the world for our kids and for loved ones in our adults and the individuals that we care for on the spectrum or with developmental disabilities. So now issue number two, we have issue. Number one is masks history. Number two is social distancing. And how do we address those things? We’ll look at that as a follow-up in a follow-up podcast as well in the near future. The third thing, the third area that we really need to look at is the area of hand-washing and hand sanitizing and keeping your hands clean to help reduce the spread of germs.

And this is a general good practice. It’s also an area where we spend a lot of time working with people with developmental disabilities, teaching them the skill of hand, washing how to appropriately wash, how to, you know, use the adequate amount of so powder wash for a long enough time. Again, even neuro-typical people, us, everyday folk, we have some difficulties sometimes, you know, or did not know, okay, we need to do this for 20 seconds. We need to wash vigorously. We need to put an appropriate amount of, so we need to be careful on touching the faucet after we’ve washed and the towels and all those sorts of things. So it’s almost like a new skill that we’re relearning. And then additionally, we’re learning that we need to do that more often. So once or twice a day, when we use the restroom, maybe, maybe not quite sufficient now during a pandemic, maybe it’s recommended now our medical professionals are recommending that you do it much more often.

So we need to kind of think about that. So one doing it, washing hands, the correct way appropriately, and then the frequency of when and how we’re going to do it throughout the day. So those are some things that we need to kind of consider. Where does hand sanitizer fit into this equation? Is it used throughout the day when you’re going to the grocery store or the drug store or wherever you happen to be going into, you have to pull on a lever on a door. Do we do use after you leave the store, do you use the hand sanitizer? And so there’s those considerations teaching that skill set as well. The last thing, and the fourth thing that we really want to talk about is this consideration of, I guess, I don’t know really how to call this, but basic germ control or covering coughs covering sneezes and how to best do that.

Also how to do that. And of course, if you sneeze in your hands knowing to go wash your hands afterwards, but there’s that set of skills is like, okay, I’m coughing. I need to cough into my arm or my elbow. If I’m sneezing, I need to kind of cut sneeze into my arm or my elbow. And I need to make sure that, you know, I’m kind of orienting my body away from people so that no germs get past my arm. And now over into the area where the people are that are in my environment. So that’s another set of skills is to teach that. So not only what do we do when we sneeze, but now there’s a new sort of improved way of doing it to best control the spread of germs. So these are the things that we need to kind of think about at a high level, in this new reality that we have during the pandemic.

Like I said earlier, we’re going to do a little bit of a deeper dive on each of these topic areas. We’re going to kind of look into the literature. We’re going to get some examples so that you can kind of draw from those examples and look at them with respect to what may or may not apply to your son or daughter, brother, sister, cousin, neighbor, client loved one. Whoever this person is and see if there’s something that you can gather from that. And also maybe, suggest this as a topic for discussion with your BCBA and the professional in your world. Who’s helping you navigate these waters. Feel free, please, as always to reach out to us through our website, through the podcast, suggest to us topics, let us know what you need. If there’s something that we didn’t cover that maybe we’re not aware of, that would be particularly relevant to the coronavirus right now and navigating the new normal. Please reach out to us through the website. If you would mind please rate our podcast. And we thank you very much for listening. Thank you very much. And we’ll see you on some follow-up topics.

Outro: For more insight from the LeafWing Center, please visit the LeafWing Center website and blog page at Email us at [email protected] or visit us at your favorite social media outlet. Feel free to submit questions or comments about this or future podcasts and we will put links to information discussed in today’s show on the website. We look forward to next time. Thank you.

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