World over we have witnessed significant changes resulting from the impact of Corona pandemic. These changes have impacted almost everyone in multiple ways; financial, social, relationships, limitations of activities and even change of culture and norms, etc. While this is true that something of this much magnitude may not have affected communities and societies worldwide in the past decades; for many adults with autism spectrum disorders these changes have been impacting their lives for quite a substantial period.
In this article, we compare the impact of Corona pandemic (the question statement) on our lives and contrast these with what people of autism spectrum disorder may be experiencing(statements showing prevalence of features in people with autism). The purpose of this article is to raise awareness about the need to support people with autism spectrum disorder, and identify the right supports that can be very helpful for people with autism spectrum disorder. We will also look at the positive side, strengths and talents of people with autism.
Struggling to cope with too many changes happening? Over 85% of people with autism have difficulty adapting to changes:
Suddenly our world may have seemed to have changed by the pandemic. Things that were previously considered okay and social norms now need special considerations. You might think that there is too much information, newer rules and considerations, all of which require rapid learning and adaption. Are you able to make quick and rapid accommodations? If not, then think about the people with autism who may experience that everything around them keeps changing. Many times people supporting them may not take their input, offering them no choice and control.
People with autism often prefer structure, predictability and routine. It is because of these skills that they are good at keeping their focus while doing repetitive work, which many others may struggle with. To help people with autism cope with changes, use effective communication and behavioural strategies. Give them time to process information and let them know the reason behind change. Do not assume that they may understand themselves.
Need to clean your hands frequently? 88% of children with autism have at least 1 repetitive behaviours/rituals:
Washing hands has become new cleaning ritual. If we engaged in this sort of behaviour some 6 months ago, we might have been looked strangely by members of the community, or may have been told that we have OCD symptoms. With us engaging in repetitive cleaning and washing hands, we feel that we are taking some effective measures to manage the situation and prevent infection. We do not look at each other strangely when we find them washing hands or using hand sanitizers. Now think about people with autism who are given strange looks , often criticised and sadly punished even for engaging in ritualistic behaviours, that help them manage the situations they might find difficult to cope with.
Just like our new cleaning habits are essential and very important for us to feel safe and in control, the rituals of people with autism are also important for them. People with autism can be given periodic breaks in which they can engage in the behaviours that may help them feel calm and well regulated.
Avoiding crowded places to minimize physical contact with others? Up to 95% of people with autism may have different sensory needs :
You spot a crowded place and decide to avoid it, after all you may not want to be touched by members of the community. It’s important that people understand respect your choice, after all it’s ensuring that you are feeling safe and are able to access places and activities important to you. Think about 95% of people with autism with sensory processing difficulties who may not want to be touched, who may not want a close hug, a handshake, but sadly many of them are not asked about their choices.
Differences with sensory preferences of people with autism allow them to experience world in a different way. Many times they are able to notice many details because of the way their sensory system functions. Insist to understand and get in touch with autism therapists to explore the sensory preferences of person with autism. Just like you like people to respect your choices and considerations, advocate for people with autism to have their choices and considerations respected as well.
Can’t go to work? 66% – 85% of people with autism do not have a job:
While you may be getting frustrated about being unable to go to work, learning to adjust to the new way of working from home, changed hours and so on, think of up to 85% of people with autism who do not have any employment. People with autism are dedicated workers and have 40% higher problem solving skills when compared with people without autism. Their tendency to stay focused and committed to work is brilliant.
People with autism can get and continue their employment with the right supports. There are employment support programs that can assist people with autism to perform well in their job. If you own a business or know someone who is looking for an employee, suggest them to consider hiring a person on the spectrum. As mentioned earlier that with the right supports, this experience can be successful.
Cannot access community or go for leisure drives? 75% of people with autism may not be able to drive:
There may be restrictions to when you can go out and about. You may be longing for that leisure drive, enjoying the scenery, music and conversation. For people with autism, majority need support to learn driving, which means another limitation to their independence, job opportunities, socialisation, relationships and another limitations that keeps them home bound.
The good news is that there are driving instructors and programs that can help people with autism learn driving. People with autism are good with following rules, which can help them be safe drivers with the appropriate supports.
Missing hanging out with friends? About 50% of people with autism report low friendship levels:
We hear that man is a social animal. The impact of self isolation and limitation of social-leisure activities on our health and well being can be huge. Being unable to hangout with friends and go out to have dinner, watch a movie, play golf with your friends can be frustrating, but think about 50% of people with autism who may not have any friend. This is especially important when the person with autism leaves school or their family homes.
People with autism have good sense of humour and enjoy keeping others happy. They are also quite honest and do not believe in telling lies or manipulating information. They also like to have friends just like everyone else, but need support with their social skills. There are therapy programs focusing on building social skills that can help people with autism foster friendships.
Can’t go on a honeymoon trip with your partner? Only 14% of people with autism report having a long term partner:
You may be feeling sad that you may had to cancel that amazing overseas honeymoon trip, think about almost 86% of people with autism do not have a long term relationship. They and subsequently miss out on the stability and happiness that relationships may bring along. Many people with autism do long for a relationship and starting a family, but often do not know where to start.
Social skills programs, relationships and psychological counselling can play pivotal role in improving their relationships.
Fed up of watching TV and video games? 64% of adolescents with autism have little choice of activities than to spend time watching TV and playing video games:
You might be getting fed up and tired of becoming a couch potato sitting in front of TV. When dressing up, you may have noticed that you have also gained weight because your outdoor and community activities may have been pretty much reduced to only essential activities. For majority of people with autism, they often have little choice but to spend time with their electronic devices. Many believe that people with autism enjoy spending time with electronic devices over human interaction, but this is not entirely true. The reason many spend time with their devices can be due to multiple factors such as lack of social and communication skills, negative experiences in the past with people, difficulties understanding safe behaviours which may limit their ability to go to community activities safely etc.
People with autism also have social needs and just like others. If we will not like our outdoor community activities to be replaced by just spending time in front of the TV and playing video games only, then we should also explore avenues for people with autism to participate in activities of their interest. Find out the person with autism’s interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Use this to explore community activities and events that support inclusion of people with autism. Alternatively create small groups of people with autism to participate in different activities.
Feeling unsure, uncertain and anxious about the situation? Up to 42- 79% of people with autism may experience anxiety:
You may be questioning when all this will actually come to an end? You may have several questions, confusions and ambiguities in your mind about what future may look like for you and your life. There may not be straightforward answers to your questions which may leave you even further confused, frustrated and probably anxious as well. Imagine how it might be for people with autism; who often are unable to share what they may be feeling, or are told that they think too much!.“Every concern is important to the person holding it”– Wasif Haq. Telling someone that they think too much hardly solves anything.
People with autism have the ability to look at a situation from a different angle, which can be a unique talent. It means that they might be able to spot something which other people may miss out. This is why they are told that they think too much because they are able to notice things in detail. Acknowledge the person with autism’s concerns and explore them to find what is making them worried. Offer reassurance and make things easier for them by having open discussion with them. Emotional regulation programs and counselling services may also make the person with autism feel grounded and well supported.
It is important to create a safe society and promote supportive culture within home, work and community so people with autism with their unique talents and potential can live a life and enjoy equal opportunities available to you and me.
Written by Muhammad Wasif Haq (2020)
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