The uncertainty and sudden changes caused by COVID-19 are difficult for everyone, and this is no less true for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Here are a few thoughts about what self-isolating or sheltering-in-place during the pandemic is like for many Autism adults.
Generally speaking, staying at home away from the general public is comfortable and comforting to adults with Autism given that for them being around people takes effort and leads to a certain level of ongoing stress. Don’t be surprised if you encounter this with an Autism Spectrum Disorder adult. With this in mind, try not to push for that person to be socially engaged through video conferencing, texting, emails or phone calls. While it may seem helpful for that person to be connected with others, doing so may actually increase stress rather than decrease it. It certainly is useful to inquire about the person’s well-being and ask what he or she needs but keep in mind that isolation can actually be helpful, and if this is the case, respect and support that need.
This is not to say that the current pandemic isn’t stressful for someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It likely is, for the simple reason that certainty is valued by people on the spectrum and this pandemic is creating a great deal of uncertainty. Many of us don’t know when the lockdown will end, what employment will be like when it does, how we will deal with financial difficulties, how this will impact our relationships, and a host of other important considerations. For those who operate best when circumstances are consistent and predictable, these are trying times, to say the least.
Even though we may be self-isolated, perhaps because of it, communication with the “outside” world is an even greater priority. Those working from home need to be in touch with colleagues to plan and execute work demands. We need to pay attention to what is happening with the virus and the efforts to control it in order to know what our next steps are in our personal and professional lives. Social communication is one of the core difficulties of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and social distancing efforts complicate those difficulties. Try not to emphasize frequent, sustained communication and recognize that a relaxed approach to staying in touch by talking, texting, and emailing will be more productive than pushing for more correspondence, conversation, and connection.
Finally, routines are helpful for most people and this is especially the case with adults who have Autism Spectrum Disorder. As a nation and individuals, our routines have been disrupted considerably. This is the new reality for everyone and we all are faced with the need to make new routines, and to do so in the midst of considerable uncertainly. You can help someone with ASD by assisting him or her create new habits and practices, procedures and patterns. This will go a long way towards mitigating the stresses and strains of this pandemic and making it easier to adjust once it has ended and life returns to normal.
Let’s all hope that day comes soon.
My thoughts are with you. Be safe and be well. And remember, we will all get through this together.