Everyone has been dealing with challenges associated with COVID-19. I believe the autism community is one of many groups in our country that is embracing the toughest of obstacles associated with the pandemic. COVID-19 has affected families caring for and supporting children, teenagers, and adults on the autism spectrum.
Individuals with autism may have difficulty adapting to change. Children, teenagers, and adults with autism are likely experiencing social isolation; emotional distress; and disrupted routines during the pandemic. While children and teenagers are finishing up the school year at home, they also realize they will not be participating in sports or recreational activities. Parents are likely having difficulty arranging for daycare while trying to accommodate their work schedules at the same time. For adults with autism, some are finishing their academic semesters remotely while others are either unemployed, working from home, or continuing to report to work if they are an essential employee during the course of the pandemic.
When it comes to disease prevention due to COVID-19, I think about the challenges that people with autism may have when it comes to understanding and applying the universal health precautions. Some people with autism may resist hand washing while others may wash their hands repeatedly. Touching one’s nose, mouth, or eyes may be soothing for some people with autism, but others may not feel comfortable with the sense of touch in general. Although some people with autism will appreciate the six-foot social distancing rule, others will not. With regards to masks, some people with autism may always wear a mask while others may resist it.
If a person with autism raises questions or concerns regarding COVID-19, it is important to use language that is clear, direct, and simple to comprehend. Some people with autism may benefit from social stories and role modeling in order to understand and know how to best respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, people with autism may find it easier to process this information if it is presented in a way that incorporates their special interests and unique ways of learning. For example, a person with autism who likes cartoons, so watching an educational, age-appropriate cartoon might help the child or teen with autism understand the importance of preventing exposure to COVID-19. Another person with autism who loves art may like to draw pictures to process the changes to their schedule and life.
People with autism may benefit from activities such as watching movies and television; playing board games; reading books; listening to music; exercising; and communicating with family and friends online via Zoom or Facebook. I believe this will help them shift their focus on other activities while we all get through these unprecedented times
Should anyone with autism experience challenging behaviors that may result in harm or injury to themselves or others, dial 911 if it is a life-threatening emergency, and reach out to doctors, specialists, teachers, therapists, and any other formal and natural supports that they may have.
COVID-19 has impacted individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their families among different age groups. To all the families and individuals in this community who are also experiencing hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic, my heart goes out to all of you as do my thoughts and prayers. Remember, when you provide the care, love, and support to children, teenagers, and adults on the autism spectrum, you all have a tremendous impact on their lives. Never forget this.
About the Author
Ryan Litchfield is an autism and disability self-advocate with educational, personal, and professional experience in supporting the aging, autism, and disability communities. Ryan is passionate in sharing his life experiences with autism to help others pursue their personal and professional goals. He has over seven years of experience in public speaking, disability, and health advocacy across many communities within central Massachusetts. He is currently working full-time as a home care administrative coordinator at Family Services as well as working on pursuing a Masters’ of the Arts in Health Advocacy at Assumption College beginning Summer 2020.