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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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