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Kara Hume, an associate professor in the UNC School of Education and Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute fellow, has nearly three decades of experience working with children and young adults on the autism spectrum. She serves as Principal Investigator (PI) and Co-PI on several studies with children, adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum.

“All children and young adults need support around a time of crisis, a time of uncertainty,” said Hume. “But individuals with autism face some additional challenges that are unique to their autism, and some of those are around comprehension and understanding. … Individuals with autism really prefer things to go as predicted and prefer routines and rituals. And when those are disrupted, it can be extra hard for this population.”

Hume was a classroom teacher for seven years working primarily with students on the autism spectrum and has worked with TEACCH Autism Program as a trainer for professionals in the field.

“Whether you have autism or not, [communication] is a topic that will have to be revisited multiple times,” said Hume. “Our understanding continues to shift about what social distancing and what is appropriate when you’re exercising outside. And so as new decisions are being made by policymakers and communities, all of those issues will need to be revisited very explicitly with individuals with autism. So as the rules change in the community, we’ll need to revisit those with folks with autism and with the larger community.”

Working with her colleagues at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Hume tailored their online autism toolkit to the current crisis. The updated toolkit already has more than 100,000 downloads and is being translated into 10 languages. It contains seven new strategies for those on the autism spectrum.

“So, sometimes individuals on the spectrum have a difficult time expressing themselves,” said Hume. “We’ve offered some suggestions on how they can verbally express themselves with support, how they can express themselves in other ways, or whether it’s through music or art or writing or recording their feelings through an argumentative communication device. So just lots of ways for individuals to say what they’re feeling, thinking, experiencing, even if they’re not able to verbally express themselves.”

Working with individuals and groups — both on the spectrum and otherwise — requires patience, effort and understanding in order to establish clear communication.

“Individuals with autism are more susceptible to being socially isolated or being lonely, and I think that’s exacerbated for all of us during this time,” said Hume. “So making sure that we are explicit in our attempts to build social connections, continue social connections during this time.”

Featured image via UNC-Chapel Hill