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5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart

Last week marked six weeks since Sunshine was placed in a residential facility.

Six weeks has never felt so long.

Everyone in the house misses Sunshine so much and wants desperately for her to return home as soon as possible.

Last week marked five weeks since COVID-19 social distancing restrictions have been in place in Virginia. It’s been five weeks since we’ve been able to see our daughter. The residential facility is on lockdown. No visitors are allowed.

Our biggest challenge has been how to show love and provide comfort to Sunshine when we can’t physically be with her?

It's taken a while to come up with things that work, but we're finally at a point where we feel good about how we're managing this challenge.

Here are 5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart that we've used!

5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart

5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart

Connecting with your Autistic Child through Engaging Video Chats when You're Apart

Engaging Video Chats

Video chats are the only way we’re able to see Sunshine.

Unfortunately, Sunshine hates video chats, which has made seeing her at all incredibly difficult.

The sensory experience of a video chat is too much for her.

She does not like sitting still and not being able to touch the tech equipment in the facility.

If your child is able to handle this form of connection with others, consider yourself lucky.

If your child can’t handle this experience, consider some of the following ideas from Dyan at And Next Comes L. We’re really hoping that Sunshine’s team in residential can try some of these with her to help make the situation more comfortable.



Fun Games to Play with Kids on Zoom Video Chat

Another idea we've come up with specific to Sunshine is using dress up props to make the video interactions all the more fun.  Sunshine LOVES to accessorize.  She shows such an interest in what everyone is wearing during the few successful video chats we've had.

We'll be sending her a care package with props to choose from and put on before family therapy sessions.  We'll also build a supply at home.  

Dressing up before the sessions will help Sunshine with the transition to video chat in general and will bring about lots of fun and laughter during family therapy.  

Routine Phone Calls with a Schedule-5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart

Routine Phone Calls with a Schedule

Thankfully we do have nightly phone calls with Sunshine. The alarm on my phone is set to 6 PM every night so we catch her at just the right time.

Sunshine does not like missing anything during the day or having her schedule disrupted, so 6 PM is the only time that works. She’s finished with her daily routines and schedules in residential and is winding down for the night.

At first Sunshine really struggled with phone conversations with us. She’s never liked talking on the phone and hadn’t had much practice before residential. Thankfully I came up with a schedule of sorts for our conversations a couple weeks ago.

Understanding the sequence of the conversation, when they begins and how when they end is incredibly helpful for autistic kiddos. Turn taking is also a great way to help with difficulties with communication.

1. We say our nightly hellos. Usually Sunshine has something she wants to tell me right away.

2. I ask Sunshine three questions.

3. Sunshine asks me three questions.

4. We blow loud kisses over the phone and say “I love you.”

5. My husband then reads Sunshine a scripture story and bedtime story over the phone.

We are extremely thankful for any and all communication we have with Sunshine right now. Not being able to see her and hold her has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever experienced as a mother.

The state of Virginia at this point in time is not lifting COVID-19 social distancing restrictions until June 10th, which means we still have more than 8 weeks to go without seeing our eight-year-old daughter. What an attachment nightmare!  Especially since her cognitive abilities are that of a five year old.

And so…

I’m learning to be the best mother I can be to Sunshine, despite the horrific circumstances surrounding her residential placement.

Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart: Sensory Friendly Essentials that are Familiar

Sensory Friendly Essentials that are Familiar

There are extreme limits to what we can and can not send to Sunshine in residential. We’ve learned that anything familiar, especially when it has a positive sensory component means the world to her.

We ordered all of the items Sunshine enjoys as part of her morning and nighttime routines and had them shipped directly to the facility.

The facility does provide necessary toiletries, but families are permitted to send their own if they’d like.

We felt the sensory experience of having her items from home may help attachment and self-regulation while we’re separated.

The smell of her shampoo and conditioner, the sight of familiar characters she loves on her toothbrush, the taste of her favorite toothpaste and mouthwash… She has loved having these special items with her.

5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart: Care Packages Combined with Letters

Care Packages Combined with Letters

Sunshine went straight from a pediatric psychiatric inpatient facility to residential. We were told to bring enough clothing for two weeks and other necessary comfort items with her.

I sent along her favorite stuffed animal, a special blanket for her bed and a family scrapbook we made together in preparation for her residential stay.

Other than that though, Sunshine had nothing.

Once we were able to receive rules and regulations from the residential facility we began to send care packages to her. She received a soft Easter basket full of safe toys for her to play with.

Just recently I sent her a set of Enchantimals to reinforce her love of Barbie like dolls and animal figures.

Sunshine loves these special gifts more than anything else.

The one thing we’ve learned though is that they must come with a letter explaining what the gift is and who it is from. Most letters we send separately because packages usually come from Amazon. Without these letters Sunshine never knows who packages are from. Letters that include images and visuals are even better!

Between residential regulations and COVID-19, Sunshine never actually receives the boxes that are sent. They’re opened and sterilized. Packaging is thrown away. They are searched through and approved by her case worker and then taken to her dorm with all forms of packaging removed.

5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart: Book Rituals

Book Rituals

As mentioned earlier, my husband Jason reads with Sunshine over the phone every night before bed. Sunshine requests which book she would like to read from her growing collection in residential, and Jason grabs a copy of the same book from our library at home.

We send new books to Sunshine regularly so we don’t end up reading the same book over and over again for weeks on end.

Sunshine loves her story time with Daddy over the phone. They turn pages together, laugh at pictures, react to phrases in the story and have a grand old time.

My husband loves the positive interaction with Sunshine, and Sunshine gets to keep one of her nighttime rituals from home during her stay in residential.

Though it is extremely hard being separated from Sunshine, and nothing can replace human contact and face to face interactions, we are eternally grateful for the ways we have been able to show love and support during the most difficult of circumstances.

We hope the ideas we've shared here inspire you to find new ways to connect with the autistic child in your life when you're apart.  If you've already found great ways to do so that are different from the ideas shared above, please don't hesitate to comment below and contribute!


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Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids (Montessori-inspired)

Relationships are a complicated subject for adults.  It's no wonder that children struggle so much when trying to understand them.

Lately my kiddos have been asking a lot of questions.

How do I show someone I care about them?  

What do I NOT do?

How do I express emotions appropriately?

Is it okay if I don't feel comfortable with certain forms of physical affection?

If so, what do I do to show someone I care about them?

When I make a mistake, what do I do to show someone I'm sorry?

What if I want to be someone's friend but they look or act differently than I do and I'm frightened?

All of these questions and more can be answered as you enjoy these Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids.

Montessori-inspired Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids

All activities and printables in this post are from the Montessori-inspired Diversity and Inclusion Bundle.

Montessori-inspired Diversity and Inclusion Bundle

If the Montessori-inspired Diversity and Inclusion Bundle is unavailable or you do not want everything included, you can purchase the Montessori-inspired Friendship Printable Pack.  All printables in this post are from this pack specifically.

Montessori-inspired Friendship Printable Pack

Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids


Physical Boundaries: Touch vs. No Touch
Physical Boundaries: Touch vs. No Touch Activity

In our home we work on teaching appropriate physical boundaries for many reasons.  To help Sunshine and all of the other kiddos understand what physical signs of affection are appropriate, I created a set of Ways to Show Affection Nomenclature Cards.

These have been a HUGE hit with our kiddos and can be used in so many ways. 

The first way I presented these cards was introducing the concept of showing affection through touch versus no touch.

Sunshine LOVES to show affection through touch, but not everyone in the house enjoys that.  Dinomite and my husband are very sensitive to tactile input. They do not enjoy being touched, especially when they don't see it coming.

Princess feels unsafe when touched when she hasn't initiated it.

These cards were great at showing the kids there are many ways to show a person you care about them whether you like people touching you or not. 

Understanding this concept was so helpful to Dinomite especially.  He was so excited to learn new ways to show love, without having to touch someone.

The cards are also great at teaching Sunshine ways she can connect with people without touching them, which is HUGE for her.

Physical Affection: Family vs. Friends
Physical Affection: Family vs. Friends Activity

Sunshine really struggles with generalizing skills from one setting to another and one person to another.  When it comes to physical affection she doesn't think twice about giving anyone hugs and kisses. 

With this activity she can learn appropriate ways to show affection when it comes to family versus friends.  Depending on your own personal preferences you can include whichever affection cards you want.

When I presented this activity to the older three kiddos I asked them which ways of physical affection they preferred from family versus friends.  The cards led to great conversations about how ways of affection and preferences vary from person to person.  Ultimately they decided the best thing you can do is ask for permission first.

Physical Affection: Yes vs. No
Physical Affection: Yes vs. No-Teaching Consent

The last way we used the affection cards with the three older kids was to teach about consent. 

Teaching Consent-Physical Affection: Yes vs. No Activity

Each kiddo sorted through the affection cards, sorting them into ways of affection they felt comfortable receiving and which ones they didn't.  They observed each other's yes and no piles, making note of ways that others felt uncomfortable.  It was such a fantastic activity filled with so much discussion.

Physical Affection: Yes vs. No Card Sorting-Teaching Consent

When presenting the yes and no cards to Sunshine, I will add the Inappropriate Interactions Cards. She will sort what behaviors are appropriate and what behaviors are not and also do the consent activity.

Teaching Consent: Physical Affection-What's okay and what's not

Practicing Ways to Show Affection to Others

One thing I did not expect from my older kiddos while presenting these lessons, was their desire to practice all of the different ways to show affection.  I was blown away by how much fun they had during this process.  

Ways to Show Affection: Happy Hands

Their interactions with each other elevated these lessons to a whole new level of fun.

Ways to Show Affection: First Bumps

 I'm so glad I had my camera on hand to capture these precious moments.  I loved that they had such a desire to learn about ways to show affection to others and have fun with it.

Ways to Show Affection: Blowing a Kiss

Through the true to life images and modeling on the cards and their desire to practice, the kiddos became so comfortable with touch in a way they wouldn't have been in another setting.

Ways to Show Affection: Side Hug

Lately, I've been quite mindful about following the child's lead when it comes to lesson presentations.  Boy oh boy am I glad I was able to just go with it.  There were so many smiles!

Ways to Show Affection: Thumbs Up

One physical affection card that may be a little unfamiliar to some is the thumb touch.  Princess and I developed this way of showing affection to each other years ago.  It felt safe to her and not to overwhelming.  We've used it ever since!

Ways to Show Affection: Thumb Touch

I feel... when you...


The very last way we used the Ways to Show Affection Cards was with our new I feel... when you... chart.  We combined the six basic emotion cards included in the Friendship Printable Pack, along with the picture chart.  We also threw in the Inappropriate Interaction Cards.

I feel... when you... Chart and Cards

The kids first practiced with the Inappropriate Interaction cards.  I was so impressed with the emotions they chose to go along with each card they selected.

I feel.. when you... Picture Prompts with Emotion and Action Cards

I can't wait to use these with Sunshine when she returns from residential.  The visuals will be such a huge help to her.

I feel... when you... Picture Prompt with Cards

After using the Inappropriate Interaction Cards I brought back the Ways to Show Affection Cards and the kids practiced with those.

Emotional Regulation Refrigerator Display

Once all of the lessons had been presented, I placed the materials on our refrigerator for use in the home when we need them.  We've had them available for the month and they're used every day.

As we presented the "I feel... when you..." chart, Dinomite asked for more emotion cards.  Thankfully I knew exactly where I could find some.  The extra emotion cards have now been printed out and laminated for use with the writing version of the chart. 

The cards are bigger than the ones that I created, but they work perfectly alongside the writing prompt.

Emotion Cards for Kids from And Next Comes L

If you're looking for more emotion cards as well, because you have a child who's ready for them, be sure to grab your own copy at And Next Comes L.  There are 80 different emotions included, all in true to life image fashion.  They are absolutely beautiful and adorable.

Teaching emotions, physical boundaries and consent can be so much fun with kids.  With the printables in the Montessori-inspired Friendship Printable Pack, (included in the Diversity and Inclusion Bundle) you have everything you need to meet the needs of every child!

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the posts below.
Anger Management for Kids Four Prompts to Encourage Mindfulness in Children 4 Steps to Managing Aggressive Behaviors One Sure Way to Help Your Child Work Through Emotions 5 Lessons to Teach Kids About Balancing Emotions

Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids (Montessori-inspired)

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