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UCLA Doctor offers COVID-19 advice for families with autistic children

Dr. Shafali Jeste with the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment offers COVID-19 advice for families of children with autism.

Posted: Apr 10, 2020 6:43 PM

CALIFORNIA -   No school, stay at home orders and other coronavirus prevention measures can be especially hard on families with children who have autism.

In a Live Skype Interview, Action News Now Noon Anchor Linda Watkins-Bennett spoke about the challenges with Dr. Shafali Jeste, MD, a Pediatric Neurologist, and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Dr. Jeste is also a Principal Researcher at the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment.

She said that it's important for families with children who have autism to keep it simple when speaking to their children about COVID-19. Explain that their schedule will be different and that there is a fun opportunity to learn at home instead of going to school.  Dr. Jeste said the key is to stick to some type of schedule so your child has a sense of structure.

Dr. Jeste said children with developmental disabilities and their families are unintended victims of stay at home orders and physical distancing because these children receive all of their services and support through the school system. So at home, they're not able to receive support and services in the same way. She said the big challenge is not just educational, but also things like speech, occupational and physical therapy. those interventions are not available in the way they were at school.

She offered some suggestions for dealing with the challenging behavior that can be caused by stress and anxiety.  Dr. Jeste said the main thing she tells her patients and their parents it to not expect too much. You're not going to be able to recreate school at home.  Focus on sticking to a schedule particularly for the first two hours of the morning and the last two hours of the day. And, make sure your child goes to bed at their regular time.

Also, Dr. Jeste said physical isolation is not the same as social isolation. Stay connected with your friends, colleagues and other parents. And, stay connected with health care providers. She said they're all able to provide telehealth services. Make sure they know you need help if you do.

For more resources and information via UCLA click here.

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