Melbourne mum Leah Dean knows better than most that attending a COVID-19 vaccination appointment is anything but simple for children with autism.
Loud noises, crowds and bright lights anywhere, let alone at a busy immunisation hub – coupled with the uncertainty of a brand-new experience – can make her teenaged son very anxious.
But with the help of a set of special step-by-step instructions called a social script, 13-year-old Alexander was recently able to successfully have both his shots.
Autism advocacy body Amaze in partnership with National Disability Services and supported& by the Victorian government have created a series of such tools for autistic kids.
Their launch coincides with the national 5-11 year old vaccination roll-out but it’s hoped the scripts will aid all autistic children and young people and their supporters.
The documents include photos and simple text to show those with autism what they might see or encounter during a new experience, aiming to reduce anxiety and worry.
“Thinking about having Alex vaccinated was a bit concerning at first as I didn’t know how he would handle the process,” Ms Dean said.
She says the social script prepared Alex for each of the various steps he had to follow during his appointment such as wearing a mask and having his temperature taken.
“It also prepared him for how he might feel afterward, which meant he experienced less anxiety.
“The social script also gave choices he could make such as wearing a hat and sunglasses to the appointment to help him cope better with light, and ear muffs or headphones to help manage sound.
The script meant Leah and Alex didn’t need to think of everything, just “personalise it to our situation”.
Amaze CEO Jim Mullan says the organisation received government funding to develop the scripts as well as a suite of other resources to help autistic people of all ages get vaccinated.
“Preparation for a new experience is crucial for autistic people,” he said.
“We now have seven COVID-19 social scripts for different age groups and different settings, and feedback has been extremely positive about them all.”
National Disability Services CEO Laurie Leigh says her organisation greatly values the partnership’s efforts in supporting children with disabilities to receive the jab.
“These social scripts are an engaging and valuable resource for all children and young people, carers and families in understanding what is involved … and the different support options available to them,” she said.
To download social scripts and access other resources, visit www.amaze.org.au/autismconnect or contact the Autism Connect national helpline on 1300 308 699