Melbourne mum’s tips to make vaccination easier for people with autism

Leah Dean shares how she helped her son, who has autism, get the COVID-19 vaccine

Melbourne mum Leah Dean has recently been through the process of helping her 12 year old autistic son Alexander, get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Good planning made the process run smoothly for Alexander, who is now double dosed.

Leah started by creating a social script that helped Alexander make the decision to get vaccinated himself.

Social scripts are story-based strategies which use images and descriptions to explain new experiences and social environments to people with autism.

For Alexander, it included the reasons why vaccination is important, photos of loved ones and images of things he loves doing but hasn't been able to do during the pandemic, like playing cricket.

The social script was in the form of a digital slideshow accompanied by Alexander's favourite song that Leah played regularly to her son before and during his vaccination appointments.

A vaccination centre was not an ideal environment for Alexander to get a vaccine as the queues, noise and crowds would have made the process stressful for him. So in consultation with Alexander's Disability Liaison Officer, Christy, an appointment was made at the Sandown drive-through vaccination centre instead.

Planning ahead

Leah developed a schedule for the day so Alexander would know what was happening and when. She also put together a reward box with games, chocolate and art supplies for him to look forward to after the vaccination.  

On the day, Leah helped centre staff better support Alexander by posting a sheet of information about him in the car window, explaining his interests and how best to engage with him, which staff really appreciated.

Alexander sat in the back seat of the car with his carer who reassured him during the process.

Leah explained that getting the vaccine at the drive-through center allowed for more privacy in the car, which is also a familiar environment where Alexander feels calm.

'The vaccination wasn't rushed, and the staff members were very helpful,' she said.

Leah made contingency plans in case the vaccination didn't go well, deciding that they would not push through but try again another day, which took the pressure off.

For Alexander's second vaccination dose, a team from community health service EACH came to the family home, which made the process even more comfortable for him.

Leah again developed a schedule for the day and posted Alexander's background information on the front door for the nurses to read before entering.

Alexander will be eligible for his COVID-19 booster vaccine within a month which will also be administered by EACH in their own home.

'I absolutely support making the vaccination process easier and more accessible for other families and I really hope sharing our story helps other people with autism,' Leah said.

Find out more

For COVID-19 vaccination resources, including vaccination social scripts, needle phobia resources, and how to access support, visit the Amaze Community Information hub or contact the Autism Connect national autism helpline by phone on 1300 308 699.

You can contact a Disability Liaison Officer by:

"Now I am vaccinated, I will never have to stop playing cricket!" - Alexander

Alexander the morning after his vaccination, still feeling very proud.