Although we find ourselves in the strangest of times, with changes impacting on our everyday lives, I am finding it a learning experience too. Every situation we find ourselves in teaches us something, either about us or other people.
I am not autistic myself but due to my work and studies, I feel I am pretty clued in to how our autistic youngsters function and respond. However, Covid-19 is turning into a complete learning experience into how the environment affects our young people. And this is what I am taking from the experience
1. Working to an agenda that I haven’t chosen and I don’t really understand – 10 weeks in to a brand new business that was building momentum and going well, with work coming in and a variety of training booked to new audiences has come to a halt. I am no longer able to carry out my own agenda. I am having to keep to the one given by the government. It has been tough to accept and caused a huge amount of anxiety, along with questions like ‘when can I do what I want to do?’ ‘Why have I got to do it like this now?’ I have an agenda I want to follow and I’m not able to as someone else has told me I can’t. I am now accepting this is the way it has to be, after watching all the news reports and chatting it over with my family and friends.
Compare this to the autistic child in the classroom who wants to carry out their own agenda but has our agenda forced on them. The reality is we have to follow the agenda of others at times but need support with visuals and modelling to understand why, with the knowledge we can follow our own agenda when the time is right to do so. The anxiety this may cause a child and how that anxiety is played out – refusal, fight back, heightened sensory responses.
2. I don’t want to go out – I am extremely lucky to have my family at home (2 not key workers and 1 home from university) and I don’t want any of them to go out, I don’t really want to go out myself as, at the moment, it is a bit of an unknown. I want to be home, where I feel safe.
Compare this to the autistic child who experiences anxiety moving into different environments, leaving home and going to school for example. You may have a child who doesn’t want to go out beyond home or school as the unknown of other environments causing anxiety.
3. My dog can only eat one brand of food and I couldn’t get it – the anxiety this has caused! I have tried to buy it in a variety of shops and even tried to source it online with no joy. I phoned several pet shops and finally found some one with it in stock! The relief. I tried not to get annoyed with someone who said ‘Can you just give her something else?’ If only they knew the consequences that would have, one being, she would not eat.
Compare this to the autistic child who will only eat certain brands of food, one shape of pasta, only McDonald’s nuggets and the anxiety felt by the parents when they are not able to get that. No, my child will only eat this. Yes, my child would rather starve. No, I can’t convince them to have something different. Yes, this is extremely stressful.
How often do we judge what is in a child’s lunchbox at school – maybe it is all they eat ….
4. I feel overloaded with all the information – we have always watched the News, I did when I was a child and our children have always watched the News with us too. In fact, our daughter used to come top in the tutor group News quiz at secondary school. ‘I just remember what dad moaned about’ she used to say!
Aside from this, I now feel like I am on information overload. I want to know what is going on, I am listening, trying to sort out what is relevant for me and my family, everyone and I mean EVERYONE is talking about it. Every time I phone my elderly dad, or mother in law, or speak to friends. I am now making time to switch off from it through daily meditation or listening to an audio book. And really, I just want the most relevant information in short key points.
Compare this to the autistic child taking to take on information either at home or in the classroom, the stream of facts to take in, following instructions, understanding what is actually relevant. The feeling of being bombarded and how executive functioning is impacted as a result. The importance of us giving the key message only.
5. And all of the above is making me exhausted ….
Autistic burnout or exhaustion is real. Our autistic children and young people, autistic adults are all susceptible to it and I think it is easy to see why. The build up of anxiety, the overload of emotion, the overload of information.
Now I have to decide what I need to help me cope at this time – time for myself, time to pursue something on my agenda that I can still access, chill out times, meditation to take the pressure off, key points of information, feeling safe.