LONDON, ONT. -- The changes that come along with self-isolation and social distancing can be difficult for children on the autism spectrum who thrive on daily routine and schedules.

“For autistic children the very most important thing is routine,” says Dr. Marcia Gragg, clinic director at the Summit Centre for Preschool Children with Autism.

“Right now their routine has pretty much ended.”

In an effort to contain COVID-19, schools, community spaces and programs will be closed for weeks to come.

“It’s been tough. There have been some behaviors that are coming out that I’ve never seen before because she’s bored. She’s looking for things to do,” says April Pare, a mother of an eight-year-old girl with high-functioning autism.

“We’re trying to play board games with her. I’m trying to take her out for drives. I’m trying to keep her busy. But there’s only so many ideas,” says Pare.

This time of transition can cause more anxiety for families trying to navigate the hectic new normal caused by coronavirus. “It might be hard on their sleeping, their eating routine, or just trying to figure out what’s going on,” says Gragg.

She believes first and foremost parents need to take care of themselves in order to have the energy and creativity to take care of their kids.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” she says. “Parents need to make sure they are sleeping, they are eating regularly. Get some social support, whether that is through phone, Face Time or any kind of social media that they can still connect with people.”

Secondly, Gragg suggests creating a home routine filled with activities that their children enjoy.

“Try to get on a routine that is predictable for the child where they can have time to play, where they can have time to learn and where they can have time to sleep on a regular schedule.”

There are ways those in the community not affected by autism can help bridge the gap.

“Understand that often times, when children with autism don’t have the routine, when they don’t have access to their therapies, they will exhibit some behaviours,” says Lisa Gretzky, Ontario NDP's critic for community and social services.

“They don’t need people looking at them in a judgmental way; looking at them as though their child is simply misbehaving. Show them some compassion.”

She also wants to remind people that many children with autism have other health issues that require medical supplies and to be unselfish when at the grocery store.

“Many of these families rely on medical supplies like masks, gloves diapers and wipes. It’s important we keep in mind those people who may need those things more than we do.”