Talking to the person you support about the coronavirus

As the coronavirus outbreak progresses and countries do their best to slow the spread of COVID-19, it's a topic we can't avoid.

With constant updates about the coronavirus (COVID-19) from the news, social media and daily conversations, your child or someone you support may be feeling anxious about the situation and have a lot of questions.

Here are some tips on how to tackle the topic and ease their worries about the coronavirus.

1. Be calm

First, are you feeling calm and ready to talk about it?

This is a rapidly changing situation that affects us all, and you may be working through your own feelings about work, your family’s health, school, and childcare – it’s a lot to process and manage.

Try to be as calm as possible before you talk about it with the person you support, so you don’t add to any anxiety they might have.

2. Stick to the facts

Ask your child or the person you support what they know about the coronavirus and clear up any confusion they might have.

Get your information and updates from reliable sources such as the Australian Government Department of Health and the World Health Organization. You can also check out the National Disability Insurance Scheme website.

You may want to limit your child’s exposure to the news, as constant updates about the coronavirus could increase any anxiety or fear.

Check out our resources to stay safe from COVID-19

3. Validate feelings

Acknowledge their feelings – if they are feeling worried or scared, explain that this is normal in a new and stressful situation. Let them know that many people are a bit worried about what’s happening, and it’s good to talk about those feelings.

Four icons in a grid. From top left, clockwise: Be calm, with a green icon of a person in a cross-legged sitting meditation pose; Stick to the facts, with a pink icon of a magnifying glass over a check mark; Keep up routine, with a blue icon of two footprints; and Validate feelings, with an orange icon of a heart.

The Australian Psychological Society has developed a guide (100KB PDF) on useful strategies that can help people cope with stress or anxiety experienced as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

With many events being cancelled, the person you support might be feeling some disappointment too. Reassure them that this is just temporary to keep everyone as healthy as possible, and the events will return when it’s safe.

4. Keep up routine

While some changes to their normal routine are unavoidable, encourage them to stick to their usual routine where they can.

For example, do they normally have a weekly visit from their sister? If this can’t happen at the moment, encourage them to set up a weekly phone call. Maintaining these relationships is a great way to keep positive and connected.

For kids and adults with autism, routine can be very important. Stick to the usual activities and schedules where possible and you can give them some added resilience against any disruption.

Where there are changes, if possible, explain in advance what is happening and why and what the new plan is to help prepare them.

5. Stay safe

Finally, let them know there are things we can do to protect ourselves and others.

It can reduce anxiety to feel some control over a situation, and governments and health authorities have given us recommendations on how to keep safe.

One of the best things we can do is wash our hands frequently. It’s recommended to wash hands for at least 20 seconds, or as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

If the novelty of “Happy Birthday” starts to wear off for the person you support, you can search for alternative 20-second songs online. You can even create your own hand washing infographic based on their favourite song!

Maybe they would prefer “Jolene” by Dolly Parton, or for the children of the 90s, “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child! A little fun can help to keep spirits up in stressful times.

If you’re concerned, call the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 or call Scope on 1300 4 72673.

Scope is closely monitoring and responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert. The safety of our customers and employees are our top priority.

We are following the information and advice from the Australian Government and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.

For regular updates related to how Scope is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19), please subscribe to our newsletter.