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‘I feel forgotten’ - Ten-year-old with autism calls for more support during pandemic

PUBLISHED: 11:22 06 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:22 06 April 2020

Ten-year-old Lilly-Ann O'Connor has called for more support for children with autism during the pandemic. Photo: Rick O'Connor

Ten-year-old Lilly-Ann O'Connor has called for more support for children with autism during the pandemic. Photo: Rick O'Connor

Rick O'Connor

A father and his ten-year-old daughter with autism have called for more awareness for children with learning disabilities and special needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The O'Connor family. (from left to right) Alfie O'Connor, Rick O'Connor, Caz O'Connor and Lilly-Ann O'Connor. Photo: Rick O'ConnorThe O'Connor family. (from left to right) Alfie O'Connor, Rick O'Connor, Caz O'Connor and Lilly-Ann O'Connor. Photo: Rick O'Connor

The Covid-19 crisis has brought normal life to a halt and Rick O’Connor and his autistic daughter Lilly-Ann O’Connor, from Thetford, have spoken out in support of those who may be finding the lockdown and change to their lives difficult to deal with.

Mr O’Connor said: “Lilly-Ann is ten and she is in a bit of a predicament because she is supposed to be transitioning into high school, but everything has been disrupted for her which causes her anxiety to go through the roof.

“It’s difficult because it takes an emotional toll on the parent as well. It’s difficult to see, particularly with the lockdown she said she is struggling to cope.”

Ms O’Connor was about to move into her new high school at Thetford Academy but with schools shut, she says it has left her feeling anxious.

(From left to right) Sandra Govender, CEO of Athena Education Support, Julie Cox, pastoral support manager and Sam Burboyne, Business support manager at its Tuesday sessions for families in Thetford. Photo: Emily Thomson(From left to right) Sandra Govender, CEO of Athena Education Support, Julie Cox, pastoral support manager and Sam Burboyne, Business support manager at its Tuesday sessions for families in Thetford. Photo: Emily Thomson

She said: “It has been an adventure but I’m finding it a bit difficult with the schools shutting down. I’m worried about high school. I don’t like change.

“I want to make everybody aware of autism. I think people are trying to make friends with everybody else but leaving people with special needs behind, I feel forgotten about.”

Athena Education Support CIC, in Thetford, is an alternative educational support service for local families and children with special educational needs.

They are offering support to parents during this difficult time to help minimise and manage any anxieties their children may be feeling.

Ten-year-old Lilly-Ann O'Connor with her brother Alfie O'Connor. Lilly-Ann has called for more support for children with autism during the pandemic. Photo: Rick O'ConnorTen-year-old Lilly-Ann O'Connor with her brother Alfie O'Connor. Lilly-Ann has called for more support for children with autism during the pandemic. Photo: Rick O'Connor

Sandra Govender, chief executive of the support service, said: “With the lockdown and schools shutting, their daily structure and routines are significantly compromised which may cause children with autism to become extremely distressed and display a number of concerning or challenging behaviours such as depression, anxiety, increased stimming and more regular meltdowns.

“Suddenly, most of our parents are expected to take on the role of teacher, teaching assistant and pastoral support in addition to being the parent.

“So, at the start of the lockdown Athena posted a simple ‘helping parents guide’ that supports them with creating a purposeful and structured daily routine.”

For more information contact Athena at office@athenaeducationsupport.co.uk

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Strategies to support autistic children during lockdown

Athena Education Support, based in Thetford, have given strategies to help parents create structure for autistic children during lockdown.

Sandra Govender, chief executive, said: “As part of our national training with health and social care professionals, we have suggested, amongst many others, the following strategies to help parents create the structure and stability our autistic children need in order to thrive.”

•Set family rules which are positive statements about how your family wants to look after and treat its members

•Draw up a daily and weekly family schedule or action plan - it can reduce their feelings of anxiety, severe tantrums and repetitive questioning

•Consider and make reasonable adjustments or changes to your home in response to your child’s individual sensory sensitivities such as lighting and noise levels

•Break tasks into small steps so it becomes easier to master

•Create a different ‘safe space’ for each member of the family to be used when they feel stressed and anxious

•Keep to bed times and its routines

•Limit the use of technology and set parental controls to help your child against potentially negative or dangerous online content

•Most importantly, parents should take care of themselves

•Do not feel guilty for taking time for yourself when you can, even if it is just going for a walk on your own


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