Thursday, April 23, 2020

10+ Ways to Support Your Autistic Child with Video Calls {Zoom Tips for Parents}

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Zoom tips for parents on how to best support their autistic children during distance learning video chats and Zoom meetings. 

Video calls and Zoom meetings can be extremely overwhelming for many autistic children, both visually and aurally. There's a lot of people moving and a lot of people talking at's enough to cause a sensory meltdown for some.

However, there are lots of things you can do to prepare your autistic child and set them up for success, especially when paired with these Zoom accommodations that teachers can make.

Ready to dive into these Zoom tips for parents of autistic kids?

Zoom tips for parents of autistic children

How Parents Can Best Support Their Autistic Kids with Video Calls

There are lots of ways you can support your autistic child at home, as a parent, to ensure that their experience in video calls goes smoothly and to help prevent sensory overwhelm (aka reduce the likelihood of a meltdown).

1. Show your child how to use the platform before the meeting

This might include:

  • How to join the video call
  • How to leave the video call
  • How to turn their microphone off and on
  • How to turn their video off and on
  • How to use any of the other features that are specific to the platform (e.g., annotate feature in Zoom during screenshare, in meeting chats, toggling the camera views between speaker mode and gallery mode, minimizing others' video thumbnails when in speaker mode, etc.)

2. Use a social story to explain about video chats

Explain the expectations and rules of video chats to your child using a social story. It can help reduce any anxious thoughts your child might have. Please note that I have a social story on this topic in the stay tuned!

3. Do some practice video chats with family and/or friends

Give your child the chance to practice using the platform and its features ahead of time by arranging a practice video chat with family or friends. You should do this with people your child is already familiar or comfortable with. Practice runs can help familiarize your child with all the features and try using them.

4. Make sure they know how to adjust the volume

Group video chats can be chaotic and noisy, easily leading to sensory overwhelm. Making sure your child knows how to adjust the volume can be a lifesaver when things get too loud and noisy.

5. Use headphones

Headphones can help your child focus more on the audio component of video chats, as well as block out any background noise from other family members or pets. Or, in our case, the constant noise from construction and drilling in our area...

The other nice thing about using headphones is that your child can simply slip them off their ears when things get too overwhelming for them and take a small break.

Also, make sure your child's headphones feel comfortable. We had a few tears in our first few experiences with group video calls and found out it was likely due to the feel of the headphones my son was wearing.

And one final pro tip...if your autistic child is a chewer, make sure you use wireless headphones to prevent your child from chewing on the headphones cord (we've learned from experience!).

6. Come up with coping strategies to use during video chats

Often, the big group chats are a bit hectic, both in terms of audio input and video input. There's lots going on on the screen and in their ears when you put a bunch of kids together in a group video call. So it's best to be prepared for potential sensory overwhelm.

Together, with your child, come up with coping strategies they can use during a video call. Some ideas include:

  • Adjusting the volume
  • Flipping the camera view to speaker mode instead of gallery mode (seeing one big head is better than seeing all the participants moving and wiggling around)
  • Sliding the headphones down to the neck so that they can still hear a bit of what's going on instead of it going directly into the ears
  • Minimizing the video chat screen (or closing the laptop screen a bit or turning it away) and just listening to the audio portion only
  • Sitting on a wiggle cushion or wobble stool if sitting for long periods is challenging

7. Consider the environment

When it's time for your child's video chat, make sure that they are comfortable and in a distraction-free area of the house. Make sure other members of the family know that your child is in a video chat and not to interrupt them.

8. Stay close by

During the meeting, stay close by - or, at least, in earshot - in case your child needs help. Your child might find it helpful for you to sit close by and help take notes or something too. It will depend a lot on your child, their skills, their age, and how they learn best.

9. Make sure your child is mentally and physically ready to go before the meeting starts

Do a heavy work activity or some physical activity before the meeting to help them focus. And make sure they've had a snack or a drink. Finally, remind them to go to the bathroom beforehand. An empty bladder, a full stomach, and a regulated body can make a huge difference!

10. Mark all video chats on a calendar or visual schedule

Help them with their executive functioning skills by marking all upcoming video chat dates and times on a calendar or visual schedule so they know when to expect them.

11. Go over safety rules and concerns ahead of time

Put together a small list of rules for your autistic child about video chat rules. That could include things like paying attention, taking notes (if helpful), keeping your clothes on, not taking the phone/tablet with to the bathroom during the video chat, not chewing on the cord of the headphones (I have an oral sensory seeker...), etc.

Other Zoom Tips & Resources You'll Love

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Zoom tips for parents of autistic children