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Coronavirus and the Autism Community

by Sally Willbanks
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Coronavirus and the Autism Community

So, I wasn’t going to write a post about Coronavirus, because that is literally all I read or hear about, and I’m sure everyone is in the same boat.  Instead, I sat down to write a post about this amazing woman, Grunya Efimovna Sukareva.  But all I could think about was how artificial it felt to force myself to write about something else, when Coronavirus is forefront in my mind.  Grunya will have to wait.

Eh.  So here I go.

While this pandemic is affecting everyone, it is affecting the autism community in a different way.  Yes, we all have to social distance.  Yes, we all have to wash our hands more frequently. Yes, we are all running out of toilet paper.  But what happens to the autistics who thrive on routine and break without it?  Meltdowns ensue.  My son is used to going to his swimming lesson every Friday morning, but I am yet to tell him that all swimming lessons at the Leisure Centre have been cancelled.  I haven’t told him, because I am not sure how he will react.  We have already cancelled his after school activities and his disability carer visit that happens once a week. Quite frankly, I am scared to tell him about swimming!

You see, we have been in a similar position before.  We have just suffered through and survived the 2019/2020 Aussie fires.  For eight long weeks we were barely able to leave the house because smoke levels were so high, we couldn’t breathe outdoors.  We suffered through blackouts, cancelled activities, and the threat of our home being burnt down.  Both of my neurodivergent kids were changed.  My ASD son was angry, irrational, aggressive, impulsive, and had cabin fever, and none of it was his fault.  We spent an entire year working on getting him out into different environments, accepting new activities and people, only for it to all go backwards again.  Things have finally started to settle down, and now this, we are rocked with the effects of Covid-19.  And I know exactly what is going to happen when we are finally told we have to go into lockdown.

Autistic people need to stick to their routines to feel safe.  With their schools, workplaces and therapy centers shutting down, their schedules are different, and their world is suddenly chaotic and scary.  They might not be able to have their usual carers visit them (as in the case of my son), and some simply will not understand why.  Autistic people can have very particular food preferences and strong food aversions, and with the state the grocery stores are in at the moment, this is a huge problem.  I have heard about some mothers being berated by other shoppers for over-buying too much of one product, but it is simply because they cannot find anything else that their autistic children will eat.  This is not a case of the children being stubborn or naughty, they will starve rather than eat the foods they are averse to.  It is sometimes very difficult to get highly sensory autistic people to shower and wash – imagine how difficult it is to keep them germ-free now?  Autistic people often suffer comorbid anxiety.  Right now, their anxiety levels must be sky-high.  I am just lightly touching on the ways the autism community is being affected by this virus.  Believe me, if I didn’t have two neurodivergent kids vying for my attention right now, I could delve much deeper.

So, what to do?  I’ve been racking my brain.  The only thing I can think of to do is to establish small routines in our home, to keep what has been constant, and grow from there.  I am going to try to reduce unexpected events to a minimum, create social stories when needed, create a basic daily schedule to follow, and find a whole lot of new iPad apps.  And maybe we will come out on the other side of this unscathed!

by Sally Willbanks

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