Autism is a neurological disability that affects millions of families each year. By definition, “Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, and speech and nonverbal communication.” Common questions for children with autism are: Will they ever have a normal social life? Make friends? Get a job?
Because of COVID-19, there are quarantine measures in effect to prevent people from infecting themselves and each other from the virus. The larger question is: How will children deal with this new change?
The current social distancing requirements in the United States prevent their development as individuals. Autistic people are very dependent on their day-to-day routines. This can be understood by using a hypothetical example: a high school freshman Sam. He wakes up each morning and promptly waits for his school bus at 7:30 on the dot. For lunch Sam has a sack lunch that’s catered to his specific tastes. After school, Sam’s mom picks him up at 3:00 from school on the way home from work.
Now that quarantine and social distancing is the new norm, school is currently out and moving towards virtual classrooms. For Sam, this would be difficult because now that school is out and his mom is working from home, Sam has to try to create new routines so he can cope with the social distancing. Also, the fact that Sam’s unable to see any friends he might be detrimental to his social skills.
Anxiety is a common trait for people who struggle with autism. That, coupled with small changes to their routines, can lead to a great deal of stress. Not only does social distancing affect their social skills, but also affects services that help them grow, like therapists and access to medication. Although therapists and psychologists are moving to virtual appointment meetings, this affects autistic patients as those visits help them remain grounded and not as prone to have meltdowns. Because of everything closing due to being “nonessential”, many on the spectrum are struggling to deal with anxiety and stimulus with little to no resources.
If you know anyone who knows someone who is struggling with their autism—friend, cousin, etc.—be open to helping them out. Younger children on the spectrum require a lot of attention for them to grow and become more comfortable with their surroundings.
About 1 in 54 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. Together with the knowledge and understanding, we can help prevent delays in getting the support and help needed for autistic patients. The earlier that support is given, the better the lifelong outcomes for each person and consequently, their families.
As a student studying in an international school, it is important to be aware of the possible effects of mental health challenges during the pandemic. It is imperative to note that consciousness of a students’ mental state can also have a huge impact on them. Students should be aware and be understanding of these certain challenges, and support their fellow students/friends/members of their community in being able to cope with a particular challenge in a healthy way. This way more positivity is spread throughout the community.
Rushita Paladugu is a staff reporter.
Edited by Ira Ahuja.