What to Tell Your Child with Autism about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

March 31, 2020

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was recently declared a pandemic and many health officials are proactively encouraging us to practice “social distancing”. Many school districts have closed temporarily as a precautionary measure. A lot of this information can be scary even for adults but for children, especially children with autism, all of these changes can be particularly difficult to comprehend.

Angela Pao-Johnson

AnswersNow BCBA

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was recently declared a pandemic and many health officials are proactively encouraging us to practice “social distancing”. Many school districts have closed temporarily as a precautionary measure. A lot of this information can be scary even for adults but for children, especially children with autism, all of these changes can be particularly difficult to comprehend.

It is really important to explain COVID-19 in a way that your child can easily understand to help keep themselves and others safe. There are several things to keep in mind:

  • Children rely heavily on their parents to put into context what is going on around them. It is important that you have a conversation with your child about the facts regarding COVID-19. Keep to things they only need to know to keep safe. Adjust the message depending on their age and their best mode of communication. Visuals work really well for children.

           This Coronavirus Social Story helps explain what’s is happening to your child:

             https://theautismeducator.ie/2020/03/11/corona-virus-social-story/

            Here are some great videos through PBS: 

            "Daniel Gets a Cold / Mom Tiger is Sick"

             "Germs Germs Go Away With Handwashing"

             "Step by Step Handwashing with Elmo"

  • Model appropriate behavior. The best defense against COVID-19 is hand-washing. Encourage your children to wash their hands before they go outside and immediately when they come home. A good way to engage children to wash hands thoroughly and for the appropriate amount of time is to wash hands with them while singing a song. I model turning on the water, getting soap and rubbing thoroughly between my fingers while singing the ABCs. If you have children that are prone to touch anything and everything and their faces and mouth (e.g. my son is 2 and still sucks his thumb), carry hand-sanitizer and apply often. Also consider limiting when you need to go outside with your child for the time-being. Lastly, I have role-modeled “catching that sneeze or cough” with my elbow (e.g. sneezing into my elbow as this prevents germs from being on my hands) and practiced with both my children. Whenever they engage in these appropriate behaviors, award them for being heroes of germ safety. 

  • Explain in simple terms why schools may have closed temporarily and why everyone is limiting their social interactions. In my household, I told my children, “Some people are sick and need to rest. We are staying home more often to allow those people to rest and get better. This helps us to not get sick too.” Also have a back up plan for what they might do in lieu of school and/or during activities that have been temporarily suspended. Many parents I know have created visual schedules so that their children continue to have a structured environment. Bringing structure during a time that feels a bit chaotic can be essential. For parents that may need some assistance coming up with things to do with their children during this time, here is a website with some ideas and is also free this month during school closures: http://www.amazingeducationalresources.com/.


During this time of increasing uncertainty and expanding restrictions, we want to remind you that we’re here for you and we know that by working together we will get through this. At AnswersNow, we are doing everything we can to support parents during these difficult times. Visit getanswersnow.com to know more about us and to get connected to a personal board-certified clinician.

Angela P.

AnswersNow BCBA

Specializes in:

Communication skills, adaptive living skills, social skills, problem behavior reduction, school-based issues

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