The Mighty Logo

My Biggest Worry for My Son With Autism During COVID-19 School Closures

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Earlier this year, I watched my boy struggle during recess; uncomfortable and anxious, spending a good portion of his time outdoors unable to access the playground or engage in any meaningful interactions with his peers.

Following my observation, I wrote: 

There he stood, on the outskirts of the playground, watching a group of his peers play ball. 

Leo’s squeals of excitement rang through the school yard while he looked on, transfixed by the elements before him…

Every whirl of the ball fueled his anticipation as he pulled his little fists up close to his chest, squeezing happily with each passing throw. 

I watched my boy during those moments, standing alone on the sidelines, from all appearances happy as can be… Yet, my heart broke as I silently pleaded, “Toss him the ball. Please just toss him the ball.”

There is a common misconception surrounding kiddos with autism who have challenges with interpersonal skills. That somehow their reluctance or anxiety around others translates to not wanting to have those relationships and friendships.

When really, often times it’s simply they don’t know how or the other kids don’t understand.

They need help, encouragement and guidance to learn those skills. Their peers need education so they can be accepting.  

Inclusivity is one word that encompasses such a profoundly important and necessary practice that we must strive for in every aspect of our daily lives.

I have observed so much love and positivity towards Leo by his classmates throughout the year.

I think it’s important though, that we always remember that proximity does not equate to inclusivity, and that teaching typically developing peers how to connect, and enter the world of a person with autism, is just as important, if not more so, than teaching a kiddo like Leo to enter theirs.

Young boy holding a snow ball

The week prior to Leo’s spring break, I was able to once again observe my boy during recess, following months of discussions and debates, and after strategies and goals were implemented to help Leo gain access to the playground and social opportunities in a way that would not create more stress or anxiety for my boy.

Rather than spending the majority of his time during recess attempting to escape the playground/his peers, I observed my sweet boy color with chalk alongside a peer. His delightful smile on full display as he played on the seesaw with a friend. A high-five reciprocated to another.


Perhaps not academic… but equally, if not more so, important in our world. 

We were given the news yesterday that schools in our county will be closed for the remainder of the academic year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

At-home learning opportunities will be made available, but for kiddos like Leo, something as vital as a half an hour on the playground working on social and communication skills? This simply can’t be replicated at home.

The closures are necessary. But, the anxiety over the losing the connections he’s made during this crisis is quite real. I worry how my husband and I will manage to keep Leo’s brain stimulated and his body regulated through these closures.

To other parents who are worried about this, I would remind you this: We are not teachers, speech-language pathologists or occupational therapists. But, we do know some things — we’ve taken on these roles long before this global crisis hit our backyard.

We understand our children’s challenges and triumphs better than anyone. We know their behavior plans like the back of our hand and can gauge what sensory input their bodies are craving at any given moment.

We’ve watched, listened and learned from teachers and therapists along the way on which learning methods and techniques work best for our kiddos.

I’m going to continue to lean on these individuals for guidance, to lean on my amazing community; fellow parents and caregivers who understand that we are all in this together, and willing always, to lend a helping hand, whether that be advice on resources or simply a listening ear.

And I’m going to lean on my sweet boy for guidance, as our family delves into this new phase of our journey.

As my dear husband, ever the optimist, expressed to me in the midst of my panic, “We’ll get through this, just like we always do.”

Follow this journey on Life With Leo.

Worried about school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out the following articles for tips and support:

Originally published: March 23, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home