Written by Joel Greenbaum, MA, BCBA
Every year, there are new and seasonal viruses that are going around such as the common cold, Influenza (the Flu), and, recently, coronavirus (COVID-19). Being sick can not only affect you and your child’s health but can also drastically limit his or her opportunities to participate in important activities such as attending school, playing with peers, and other social and learning opportunities. Fortunately, there are some strategies, skills, and tips everyone can use to help reduce the likelihood of getting sick.
While every disease is different, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified some commonalities in the way they are often spread by droplets from the nose and mouth, which can contaminate other surfaces and commonly used items. The CDC has posted steps to help prevent contracting and spreading diseases like coronavirus:
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are coughing and sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect areas regularly.
By washing our hands often and keeping our areas clean and disinfected we can help reduce the chance of transferring bacteria and viruses we may have picked up from a contaminated surface to our system through our eyes, mouth, and nose. However, many people do not wash their hands correctly, and this is often a skill we work on with kids and individuals with disabilities. The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, which is roughly the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice or the alphabet once at a reasonable pace.
Here is a video the World Health Organization published that demonstrates how to effectively wash your hands.
To make sure we are washing our hands often enough it can be helpful to include it as part of our everyday routines just as we do with our bathroom routine. For example, washing hands before eating each meal and snack, when you return home, when you enter a classroom, and after coughing or sneezing. Sometimes kids and individuals with disabilities have a tougher time completing steps independently. Including a visual support that uses pictures to show the correct steps placed within line-of-sight in the area where hands are washed, such as on the mirror in front of the sink, can be an effective way to make sure all of the steps are being completed. If soap and water are unavailable use an alcohol-based hand rub and complete the same steps until your hands are dry. Even with clean hands, it is important to continue to limit how often we touch our face. Avoiding touching your eyes, mouth, and nose can be incredibly difficult sometimes as it can be like a reflex, and we will do it without thinking about it.
On top of keeping our hands clean, it is important to clean and disinfect surfaces and other items including clothing, toys, and furniture to reduce the likelihood that we touch or contact something that has been contaminated and transmit it to ourselves. One behavior younger children and some individuals with disabilities engage in is “mouthing,” which often means putting non-food items from the environment into the mouth. A common alternative provided to decrease this behavior is redirecting to the use “chews,” which are often soft items with the sole purpose of being an appropriate item to be placed in the mouth instead of items in the environment. Some individuals also use alternative communication modalities such as Picture Exchange Communication books and devices. It is imperative that these items should be cleaned and disinfected often. It is also important to read the instructions on the items you are using to clean and disinfect as some products can be dangerous to ingest. For example, some disinfecting products state that in order to kill viruses the product must be sprayed on the surface and allowed to air dry for at least 10 minutes instead of being wiped away immediately.
Finally, a simple strategy to avoid getting sick is to avoid close contact with people who are sneezing and coughing. Many institutions and events are taking this strategy into consideration and making large attempts to limit large gatherings of people in confined spaces such as sports arenas, concerts, and airplanes. By avoiding areas like these with large concentrations of people you can reduce the likelihood of contacting people who are sick and viruses being spread as a result. An often-overlooked health and hygiene practice is to cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze. Common areas and surfaces can become contaminated if someone sneezes or coughs directly onto surfaces or into their hands before touching surfaces. When you cough or sneeze it is important to cover your mouth and nose appropriately – into a tissue or your elbow. If you use a tissue, immediately dispose of it into a trash can. Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based rub afterwards as well.
It can be worrying to see increasing numbers of people falling ill, but by using these strategies and helping our kids use them we can drastically reduce the likelihood of catching one of these viruses and getting sick.