‘Normal’ life is usually not easy to start with for people on the autism spectrum — and this pandemic is making it even worse
The global coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world has taken the lives of many. But in addition to the massive loss it’s left in its wake, it has also illuminated exacerbated many preexisting conditions. Mine is one of them.
As a public service during this pandemic, the Forward is providing free, unlimited access to all coronavirus articles. If you’d like to support our independent Jewish journalism, click here.
I have autism, and living with autism through a lockdown has been incredibly challenging. Autistic people crave our routines. Many of us see these routines as something akin to our own DNA. I know I do; it was one of the ways I was able to diagnose myself with autism as a teen back in 2002.
For the past few years, I had a routine, thanks to my full time job. I worked at an office four days a week and I worked at home by telework for one day a week.
During the pandemic, I have been lucky, and have not to have lost my job, unlike many in this economic crisis. Like many others, and I’ve been able to transition to teleworking five days a week. I don’t need anything but a remotely connected laptop or computer for work.
But things have changed in other areas of my life. Now, besides my immediate family, I don’t see anyone anymore. Before the crisis, I used to go out sometimes for work or leisure on weekends with my laptop. Besides the office, I spent time in coffee shops or pubs with wifi.
Now, everywhere that had these amenities are closed indefinitely. Now, the big question of the day is in which room do I do my work in and on which chair or sofa do I sit. I’ve lost the sense of time now that different days don’t vary at all. I no longer recognize specific days anymore. Rather, time feels like a blob without name with very little to mark whether today is a workday or a weekend.
When you’ve lost all of your daily routines, you feel a mixture of all the negative emotions in your head. You feel lost, disoriented and sometimes sick. It feels like living in an open-air prison where you can go outside for a brief walk a few minutes a day.
It’s clear that the dog days of the COVID-19 lockdown are tough for everyone. But for people living on the autism spectrum, they are basically small, daily battles full of struggles and with our small universe collapsing in real life in front of our own eyes.
In most western countries, sadly, the vast majority of people who are too young to remember the last World War have not lived periods of such privations and rationing. Few people who lived the Spanish Flu after World War I are still alive today. “Normal” life is usually not easy to start with for people on the autism spectrum — and this pandemic is making it even worse because we are without routine and lonely because of social distancing.
What could be done to help someone with autism for days like today?
Perhaps the best gift you could give in these difficult times is to have communication by remote means with someone you may know who is on the autism spectrum just to cheer him or her up and to tell him or her that sometimes the light on the end of the tunnel will be there one day.
In these extraordinary times, perhaps people with autism are wise after all to pray for our unextraordinary daily mechanical routines. Why? Because even if this routine could be considered boring for some, it could be a source of joy and inner peace when you lived through weeks and weeks of social isolation and possibly with some weeks or even months to come in some lockdowns around the world.
Mathieu Vaillancourt is a writer and policy analyst. He is the holder of a degree in International Development and Globalization.