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Autism and the Coronavirus

John McCraith

John McCraith Autism Specialist, National Learning Network, Waterford

Here at the Rehab Group we are passionate about the lived experience of individuals with autism. During this month of autism awareness we collectively take into more conscious consideration the needs of individuals with this condition We reflect on, and action into best practice, interventions and person-centered supports that contribute to the qualitative improvement of the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum.

Of course the current situation that we find ourselves in here in Ireland and globally, is presenting challenges that require of us all to find new and creative ways to live our daily lives. We all need to be informed, but make sure that the media you watch or listen to about the pandemic does not unnecessarily make uncertainty and fear greater than necessary. As a Psychotherapist who specialises in supporting adults on the autism spectrum, I have had to give reconsideration to the nature of my work and how best to provide supports during this time of ‘new normal’.  

I would like to offer to individuals on the autism spectrum, caregivers and family members, who find themselves supporting loved ones with autism, some practical touchstone points to keep in mind to maintain wellbeing in daily life.

Wisdom I have learned from people on the spectrum ‘be brief, and get to the point’, with that in mind here we go…

Time has fundamentally taken on a new dimension and meaning because of the current situation. It has given way to all sorts of uncertainty. Unstructured time and uncertainty pose enormous challenge for people on the autism spectrum. The psychological void between certainty and uncertainty give way to stress and anxiety. When we take the big concepts that are occurring globally and turn that uncertainty into manageable concrete things we can control in our daily lives, we can create certainty and predictability. For someone on the spectrum yourself or a family member supporting a loved one, I would ask you to give consideration to the following pillars of certainty. Incorporating some that are appropriate into your life will give a sense of predictability and consequently facilitate proactive coping.

Structure – Connection – Movement- Creativity
Get up at the same time every day
Go to bed at the same time every night
Have your lunch and dinner at the normal time
Make your bed every morning
Dependent on weather, take exercise outdoors at the same time each day (Always remember social/physical distance)
Spend some time each day to be creative
Place your timetable in a place where you can regularly check it.
Spend a reasonable amount of time on your special interest
 
Connection
Every day using either email, phone, WhatsApp, Text, Zoom, Skype, talk to someone outside your house; Friends, classmates, extended family members
Ask a friend or family member not living with you, to read a book, cook a dish, watch a film at the same time as you, this will give you a script in conversation
Play an online game with others who you can talk with online
Post a card to a friend or extended family member
Text a friend or family member to arrange a time to talk on the phone

Movement

Exercise at least once daily before or after meal times for about 20 minutes – walking running, walk the dog within 2KM radius of your home.
Use YouTube to find short guided exercises in Yoga, tai chi, dance, boxercise
Go into your back garden and take a few deep breaths
Do a load of laundry
Clear out your closet, drawers, hoover a room or two
 
Creativity
Listen to 30 minutes of your favourite music
Gardening
Baking or cooking a favourite food
Painting or drawing
Card game or board game
Reading
Jig Saw puzzle or Lego
Do some writing, start a journal
Knitting or crocheting, see YouTube for tutorials
Various sensory activities, such as taking a bath, lava lamp, essential oils, weighted blanket, time with favourite smells, stress ball
Try out various Apps that help you be creative, such as: Brainsparker and Behance.
Take at least 15 minutes to meditate, relaxation exercise….find one you like on YouTube