Autism Awareness and Social Distancing: How?


As the entire country is abstaining from social activities, due to social distancing and COVID-19, how can we continue to bring awareness to important social differences?

First, please notice, I didn’t call Autism a “condition” or a “disease.” Autism is a diagnosis, often referred to as a disability. It is a six letter word used to describe millions of people, with a million different perspectives of life. Technically, Autism Spectrum Disorders can be defined as “a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition. This means that while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last few weeks has found many of us working from home, and in some cases attempting to home school our children. This is a great teaching opportunity on so many levels for both parents and children. All of us have had to try and understand the advice of our government and medical professionals. While most of their recommendations are fairly simple – they can be hard to practice. We also have added a new phrase to our vernacular, or lexicon – social distancing. By following the State and National recommendations for social distancing, the following statements are now true:

  • We are supposed to stay home and avoid public gatherings

because although the average healthy adult should survive the Coronavirus, medically fragile or immuno-compromised

people may not.

  • Our routines and habits have been forcibly stopped. This means no church services in person, meetings for work or social purposes, sporting events, preventative medical care (dental, eye, etc.) appointments have been postponed, and critical to many of us, is the closure of schools and school events.

  • Shopping trips to get food and basic needs have been cut to the bare minimum.

  • Healthcare workers are “essential employees” and must go to work, exposing themselves, and possibly their families to a virus not many people know very much about.

So, why did I point these things out and what does this have to do with learning for ourselves, and teaching our kids the “big picture?” I point these things out because if you are a typical parent with typical children, you know the affect social distancing is having on ALL of us. We are seeing firsthand how our typical children are struggling with the disruption in their routines.

Now, imagine the extra challenge of supporting a child who does not perceive the world the same way you do, or as their sibling(s) does; where every outing before social distancing was carefully planned to avoid too much stimulation, or to help them understand how to deal with the world around them. Any change in the routine could cause an astronomical amount of confusion, anxiety, and distress for your child on the autism spectrum, and just as you’ve managed to navigate life in a somewhat tolerable path for your child’s routine then… BOOM! It all has to change. It isn’t anyone’s fault and there’s nothing anyone can do about the changes. There isn’t enough information to comfortably say, “This is no big deal, we’re doing what we do regardless” without taking a big risk concerning your child’s health and safety. Schools are closed. Social activities forbidden. There really isn’t a way to keep on keepin’ on because NO ONE is supposed to be participating in those activities.

Social activities are frequently a struggle for individuals on the Autism Spectrum. This is due to the process of getting familiar with and adjusted to a new environment or the people within the environment can be a slow one. That’s assuming common inclusion or acceptance issues don’t pose a problem. If those are problems in addition to perception and sensory issues an individual on the spectrum experience, it’s an even bigger challenge.

Additionally, many folks on the Autism Spectrum need and want a fairly high level of consistent routine, and when that routine is broken or disrupted, it can put a real strain of the individual. And if anything can said about the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, is that it has disrupted all of our lives. This link shares ideas to help your child with autism cope through Covid-19.

That’s why I’m pointing these things out. That’s why I want parents who can teach their children or grandchildren, to learn about life from another perspective; to take advantage of this opportunity and learn from this terrible pandemic. Social distancing hasn’t been easy for the typical child or family.

Think about overcoming this with a child on the autism spectrum. “It takes a village” is a common idiom, but what about when the village isn’t safe or worse…they aren’t accepting? Educating our children can make a difference for the latter. Viruses will come and go. We will be a social society again, and when we are, I hope we are better people because of the time we had to reflect and learn. And more understanding and accepting of individuals who are on the autism spectrum, and the challenges their families face every day.