Tips and Resources for Families Living with Autism

The Curry School’s STAR team is committed to partnering with individuals and families with autism spectrum disorder, who are particularly hard hit by the closing of schools and suspension of therapies that involve close contact.

Due to the spread of COVID-19, now is clearly a time of huge change and uncertainty. Individuals and families living with autism spectrum disorder are hit particularly hard by the closing of schools and day programs and the suspension of therapies that involve close contact.

The Curry School’s Supporting Transformative Autism Research (STAR) team is committed to partnering with you in finding solutions for the needs of people with autism and their families. They have created a collection of resources specifically for families with autism that can be found at

Rose Nevill, PhD, BCBA, is a Research Assistant Professor of Education and Director of the UVA Autism Research Core. Nevill, who is interested in applied research with individuals with autism spectrum disorder across the lifespan, offers tips for families on how to create routines.

Tips for Building Routines

  1. Build a visual schedule: For younger learners or learners with greater communication difficulties, help establish new routines using pictures or objects to represent different parts of the day. For example, you could use an image of blocks for playtime, a sandwich for lunchtime, or a computer for online learning time.
  1. Create a two-column checklist: Create a “To do” and “Done” side of your child’s schedule – once tasks are finished, your child can get satisfaction from moving items over to the finished side. Build in incentives in a simple way, like offering a sticker or a snack after a certain amount of things are complete.
  1. Make a menu: To help give your child ownership over her day, create a set “menu” of options – once an item is used off of the list, it is no longer available. This can be especially helpful with meal planning!
  1. Time screen time wisely: Reserve screen time for parts of the day you need to yourself (for exercise, work meetings, and personal tasks). Limit screen time in the evenings to maximize the quality of your child’s sleep.
  1. Play red light/green light: To help your child avoid interrupting your work, use a signal that he is likely to notice that shows when interruptions are not allowed – for example, wear a brightly colored hat or hang a sign off of your desk. Explain the rule to your child regularly (“Remember, I’m not available when the hat is on!”) and reward him for “following the rules” every few hours or once a day.

Online Education Resources

The STAR team also recommends the following online education resources specifically for families impacted by autism spectrum disorder.

Little Puddins, The Autism Educator, has created a COVID-19 social story to help children understand more about what is happening in the world today.

Autism Focused Intervention and Research Modules' seven support strategies are designed to meet the unique needs of individuals with autism during this period of uncertainty. The strategies and their COVID-19 toolkit can be found online.

We Are Teachers has created a list of over 130 resources to help parents continue to support their child's learning, including sites to support individuals with special education needs. Their list can be found on their website.

The Curry School STAR team will be publishing more helpful tips and resources in their weekly newsletter and on their Facebook page. Sign up for their email list online.

About STAR

The mission of the UVA Supporting Transformative Autism Research (STAR) initiative at the Curry School of Education and Human Development is to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families through research, education, and outreach. STAR brings together researchers, community partners, individuals with autism and their families to leverage strengths and address challenges. Our ultimate goal is to empower individuals with autism, their families and their communities to achieve positive outcomes and quality of life.