Information for Parents (COVID-19)

During the current school closures, we would like to offer the following information for parents of children and young people who have additional learning needs or a learning difficulty.

This is an extremely unsettling period for you and your children, and whilst it will be important to offer learning opportunities for children or young people, their well-being is paramount.

Schools across Birmingham and the whole country are working hard to ensure children who are not in school have the resources they need to continue their learning at home until they can return to classes. Your child’s or young person’s school should be the first point of contact for information.  The activities below are designed to compliment and enrich the work already being provided by your child’s school.

Click on the sections below for activities, ideas and strategies.

For further information please visit the local offer website:

Supporting your autistic child/young person at home.

Setting up a workstation/area

Setting up a quite working area or a workstation helps support children with autism to focus on work and activities they need to complete.

For information about how to make the workstation more structured see the attached leaflet.

Workstation leaflet
  • Find an area in your home that has minimal distractions, reduce sensory input as much as possible. Make sure they have all the equipment they need to complete the task.
  • Put up a (visual) timetable/agenda of work for your child to see and work through. They may need support to use this initially. Have a clear indication of when their activity is expected to finish.
  • Use a clock or timer to indicate when the activity is coming to an end.
  • You can add more structure to a workstation/area by using two trays; one for activities that need to be done (on the left side) and one for tasks that have been completed (on the right side).

These activities are suggested to support your child or young person with autism to engage with learning experiences: 

Many autistic children and young people are self-directed. These activities are suggested to help you do things together while you are at home.

For more ideas…

autism support leaflet (PDF) Autism suport Leaflet (word)
  • If your child is pre-verbal and it is difficult to engage them in activities, join in with activities they enjoy, even if you don’t understand why they enjoy them! Copy their actions and vocalisations and join them in “their world”. Even if your child is verbal, it is important to spend time doing the things they enjoy with them, as you are showing that you are valuing their preferences.
  • Do life skills tasks together (e.g. putting washing out), otherwise they may feel that they are doing lots of jobs! Also, you are modelling how to do the activity.
  • It is important for a child or young person to know why they are taking part in an activity. Explain in words; write a short explanation script; or explain it using a flow chart.
  • If using a visual or written timetable, make sure it contains break times and times when your child can do things they really enjoy.

Fun sensory-based activities to try at home.

Many autistic children enjoy sensory play. These activities are suggested to support your child or young person if they enjoy sensory-based activities: 

For more ideas…

Sensory play Leaflet (PDF) Sensory play Leaflet (word)
  • Make letters, words and numbers in shaving foam, sand or with playdough. You can find recipes to make playdough online. Jazz it up by adding scent or glitter!
  • Spider web walk – use masking tape to make a spider web on the floor. Put letters on joins to make words, or make into maths calculations.
  • Pay ‘guess the smell’ games.
  • Hide objects in a feely box or bag. Guess the objects.
  • Sensory treasure hunt. Hide pots around the house or garden with different things to feel inside for your child to find.
  • Use Nerf guns to shoot at post its on the wall with letters or answers to questions.

Distraction activities to break things up while at home.

These activities are suggested to support your autistic child or young person if they need activities to provide a distraction or to give them a learning break. 

Including being physical, creative, fun, inspired, comforting and constructive. 

For more ideas…

Distractions leaflet (PDF) Distractions leaflet (WORD)

Physical activities: throwing socks against a wall, playing with a stress ball, having a pillow fight,  play hide and seek and walking up and down the stairs.

Creative activities: drawing, sewing, writing a song, making a playlist of favourite songs, origami and making instruments at home.

Being inspired: Looking into the sky and watch the clouds (from a window or garden), watching a candle burn, practice mindfulness and doing yoga.

Comforting activities: cuddling a soft toy, allowing yourself to cry, wearing your pyjamas, wrap yourself in a warm blanket and talk to a friend.

Constructive activities: Completing school work, untangling string or necklaces, cleaning, baking, gardening and building with Lego.

Visual timetables

These help communicate the structure and sequence of the day by physically showing it. It provides routine and predictability which helps to decrease anxiety and behaviours associated with stress. They explain when things are going to happen and when things are going to change or finish.

For examples …

Visual timetables (PDF) Visual timetable symbols
  • A visual timetable is made up of a series of objects, photos/pictures, symbols or written words. Use whichever is appropriate for your child’s level of understanding.
  • Once each activity has been completed, it is then taken off the timetable and placed in a finish box or folder/envelope. This helps to show that the activity has been completed and what is next.
free resources

In the beginning you will need to guide your child through the process by showing the picture/symbol/word on the timetable at the beginning of each activity. Visual timetables can be used to prepare for unexpected changes in routine which are often challenging for children with autism.

Picture keyrings

Keyrings help you to communicate simply what is happening in your day with your child. They can also be used to reinforce behaviour expectations. They help you to communicate structure.

More information…

Picture Keyring leaflet free Picture resources
  • They can be a small selection of 6-8 regularly used photos or symbols that can be kept with you for instant access when required. They can be a physical keyring or a folder of images on your phone or tablet.
  • They are particularly helpful as an immediate visual cue about what will happen next.
  • They are good for times of change in the day such as moving from one activity to another, like stopping for lunch.
Supporting your autistic child when they are emotionally overwhelmed

|   How might your child show you that they are emotionally overwhelmed?

  • Shouting

  • Screaming

  • Aggression

  • Self-harm

  • Flopping to the floor

  • Being argumentative

  • Hiding

  • Refusal

  • Defiance

  • Shutting down

  • Running off

  • Avoidance

  • Crying

|   What may cause your child to be emotionally overwhelmed?

  • Misunderstanding what has been said to them.

  • Differences in the way they take in information

  • Confusion

  • Frustration

  • Stress

  • Learnt response (they have not yet learnt a more appropriate way to deal with their emotions and the response has become a routine response)

  • Lack of understanding of their own emotional state

  • Misinterpreting events and/or motives of others

  • Feeling that they do not have the skills to complete a task

  • Differences in the way they process sensory information

  • Anxiety (likely to have higher levels of anxiety)

|   How can I help my child when they are emotionally overwhelmed?

  • Stay calm and think clearly

  • Lower your tone of voice

  • Speak slowly

  • Reduce your use of language

  • Reassure. Do not give direct instructions at this point

  • Acknowledge how they are feeling

  • Lower demands

  • Give time. If you rush they will quickly become overwhelmed again.

  • Try to work out the trigger

|   What can I do to prevent my child becoming emotionally overwhelmed?

  • Teach them about their emotions. Their feelings can frighten them and they need to know these feelings are not unusual

  • Remove or lessen triggers

  • Teach them a strategy to manage the trigger. This may take some time so keep practising.

  • Prepare them and take away the unpredictability of a situation

  • Stick to routines

  • Reassure – we all have times when we find things difficult to manage

  • Build resilience – remind them of difficult times when they have coped

  • Be consistent

  • Make a plan of how you will support your child when they are struggling.

  • Adapt as you go along

Tips to build resilience in your autistic child/young person.

Our children and young people can build resilience to manage difficult times. It may take time, so we need to take it one step at a time. Here are some tips:

Resilience leaflet (PDF) Resilience leaflet (word)
  • Encourage your child to talk or communicate with you about their concerns. This may be difficult so allow time and build it up gradually.
  • Explain to your child that difficult situations do not have to be permanent.
  • Teach problem solving. Ask them to think of more than one solution to a tricky situation. They can then choose the most appropriate response.
  • Support friendship building. Use Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations to help them understand the feelings and motives of others.
  • Give appropriate challenge with support.
Autism and anxiety

Anxiety and the four areas of difference

Autism is characterised by rigid thought and a need for routine and predictability. This is both a result of anxiety and a cause. Children and young people with Autism can experience difficulties with processing information, communication, interaction and sensory processing. 

They may experience the following:

Communication: Being unable to express themselves or comprehend what is being said, literal in their understanding and/or unable to read facial expressions or body language. 

Interaction: Misreading social situations, unable to communicate, use behaviour as a form of expression and/or they lack recognition of emotions of themselves or others.

Processing information: Take longer to process what is being said, cannot make small talk and/or they focus only on their own interests

Sensory processing: Can be over or under sensitive to sensory stimuli 

Autism and anxiety
We can support our children by providing them with the skills to manage their symptoms, support them to build a tolerance to uncertainty and increase their resilience.

Once you have started to help your child to cope with their sensory needs, they may start to experience a lower level of everyday stress and be better equipped to cope, thereby reducing their long-term anxieties.

For more information…

Autism and Anxiety

Communication
• Lessen language
• Check they understand what is
being said
• Allow time to process and respond
• Use alternative forms of
communication as needed

Interaction
• Stay calm
• Lower your tone of voice
• Acknowledge how they are feeling
• Lower demands
• Reassure them
• Remind them of difficult times when
they have coped

Processing information:
• Clear instructions supported
visually
• Allow processing time
• Reduce information and deliver
learning in manageable chunks
• Learning breaks/energy banking

Sensory processing:
•Access to low/high arousal spaces
•Calm down/safe space
•Sensory boxes
•Movement breaks

Deep breathing exercises 

You can talk your child through some breathing exercises to help them to relax and calm down if they are feeling anxious. 

For more information…

breathing exercises
  1.  Count slowly 1, 2, 3.
  2.  Smell the flower – take in a deep breath through the nose.
  3.  Blow out the candle – breath out through the mouth, counting slowly 1, 2, 3