This tip will give some helpful hints to help an individual with autism know what is going to happen when they get tested for COVID-19. COVID-19 testing is a new and possibly scary experience for anyone. Providing a meaningful explanation of what will happen as well as strategies to cope will help them understand what will happen and give them strategies to cope during the process.


  • When making the appointment, ask about the testing process. Testing sites have different procedures and protocols. Write the process down step-by-step to create a social narrative that tells the individual what will happen and what he/she will do.

  • Try to match the narrative to your individual’s understanding. If they can read, use a combination of written information and pictures to show them the process. If they do not read, use pictures with a few words. When someone reads the story to the individual, the written words will help ensure that a consistent description and process are being conveyed. Some individuals might find it easier to follow the story (process) if the steps are on separate pages.

  • Decide on a distraction activity to use while the individual is having his/her nose swabbed. This could be their favorite activity, like watching a video or coloring a picture. It could also be a calming activity, like squeezing a squeeze ball or rubbing their hands on something soft.

  • Having an idea of how long something uncomfortable will last and when it will be finished helps reduce anxiety. For some individuals, a verbal and visual countdown is effective as one can adjust the pace of the counting to the pace of the swabbing. Show the visual countdown of how long the swab will be in his/her nose and visually show the passage of time by crossing off (or removing) the numbers as you verbally count down. The last item can be the words “all done” or, you might have the word (or picture) of what the individual will get when the swabbing is finished. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider how long it will take them to get an accurate sample.

Helpful Hints: 

  • Read the social narrative several times before the day of the test. This will help the individual with autism have a better understanding of what is going to happen. Keep the story with you in the car to read once again when you get to the testing site. You might review the story as the individual with ASD goes through the testing process similar to a checklist.
  • If you think the individual will still be very upset by this process, even with preparation ahead of time, consider talking to your healthcare professional about the possibility of a light sedative for the test.

Thanks to Anne Oakes, RSI for this tip


Downloadable .pdf Stories with visuals

COVID test at home

Go to doctor office for COVID test

COVID test at a drive-through


In times of uncertainty, everyone benefits from predictability!