A Helping Hand is the New Normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for most people. But for more vulnerable groups, a change in daily routines and adjusting to a ‘new normal’ can be one of anxiety and trepidation. Recognising this, Dr Sinéad Smyth, from the DCU School of Psychology, and her team are determined to identify the difficulties facing young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and their families. The thinking behind the proposal is to develop a flexible resource package to support children and young people with an ASD diagnosis, as well as their families and educators, to help resume regular daily routines once COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed.

Dr Smyth’s involvement in the national scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic should have a positive impact on some 14,000 students with ASD in Irish schools. Recognising how changes in lifestyle, restrictive routines and a disruption in everyday patterns can affect young people with ASD and how this can be helped is at the very heart of this research. “For children and young people with ASD, adapting to change at such a rapid rate can be very difficult,” said Dr Smyth. “Dealing with the current challenges is important, but we also have to look beyond the current situation to begin preparing for the loosening and lifting of restrictions.

Our project involves the development of a transition package to guide parents and educators in preparing children and young people with Autism for the resumption of regular daily routines following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. The development of this resource will be informed by the needs of families and young people, as measured through surveys, as well as expert consensus on the targets and means of intervention.”

DCU became the world’s first Autism-Friendly University in 2018, acknowledging the need for an understanding for those – both students and staff – who are on the autism spectrum.  Dr Smyth’s project is a mark of “further strength to the broad range of activity being supported under the umbrella of DCU’s COVID-19 Research and Innovation Hub”. Dr Smyth’s research project is one of 26 rapid response efforts underway as part of the national, coordinated research and innovation funding response to the pandemic. The Health Research Board and the Irish Research Council are investing €3.4 million across 21 of the projects that look at health, health services, social and policy countermeasures.

To find out more about the School of Psychology in the Faculty of Science and Health, visit www.dcu.ie/psychology