COVID19 is here and spreading rapidly. This is a health emergency and everyone should be concerned.Neurotypical people who have rarely felt anxiety, now feel a sense of dread and paranoia. Some are selfish. panic buying all the food at the supermarket. It is not easy for anyone. However, for autistic people it can be especially hard. Many of us thrive on routine and are comforted by certainty. If we are thrown off of our routine , life can become scary and overwhelming for us. Many of us can not live comfortably without routine and familiarity. It may even cause panic in some of us more prone to anxiety.
Empty Subway during the COVID19 Era
Now, along comes COVID19 and cities start to shut down for the sake of social distancing. We understand that this is important to prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed but it throws off our routine . The places that we used to go are now shut. Schools and workplaces are shut and nobody knows what will happen in the coming weeks or even months. Everything that we know has been shattered . It is like throwing a domesticated dog into a pack of wolves. It is terrifying.
Another factor is many of us obsess over things. Many of us will obsess over COVID-19 just as I have been doing. We are also less likely to be blindly optimistic and pretend things are okay like some NTs seem to be doing. Our tendency to hyper-focus could cause us even more anxiety.
It is also not uncommon for people on the spectrum to be hypersensitive to our surroundings and feelings. This means that we can strongly sense the panic in the air and we are disturbed by it. The feeling of mass hysteria around us may overwhelm us more than it does the general population. I am more afraid of hoarders buying up all the soap and pasta than I am of getting the virus. The “Everyone for themselves ” mentality that has surfaced may make many of us with disabilities feel isolated. Not everyone on the spectrum is capable of going to a crowded supermarket where people are panicking and fighting so that they can take it all for themselves. Many of us are not pushy and can not shove ahead.
Since we often have difficulty making friends, our canceled ASD support group may be the only social event we have. It may our only support system. This will also be gone.
There are multiple reasons why this can be hard. We are also more prone to following instructions and listening to the recommendations of health experts.
I have had contact with a number of autistic adults online who are having a just as difficult time as I am. It will be hard to get through such uncertainly. There are many worries. Will we run out of food? will we run out of soap? Will there be a curfew? lockdown? if we need the hospital, will there be beds available? If my job drops me, will I be able to afford to eat ? Will I go homeless? After the crisis what the hell is going to happen? It is just an overwhelming amount of unanswered questions and fears.
How can we cope?
This is hard for me to answer since I am not coping very well with it. The most important thing is to realize that this worry is valid. This is a reason to be concerned. We also need to take a look at statistics. We likely won’t die as 80 percent of cases are mild. It is best to listen to expert advice but not hyper-focus on the topic.
This is the time to get absorbed in our interests and hobbies. For instance, if your interest is The French Revolution, read a new book on the topic. Watch shows that you like. Listen to music, learn a new language. Just try to find something healthy to hyper-focus on. Creative expression is healthy such are drawing or writing.If it gets really bad, don’t be afraid to call a crisis line if you have nobody else.
How is it affecting me?
I am not doing too well. The advice I gave above is hard for me to take. It has caused me a tightness in my chest and self-harming meltdowns. I am not dealing well with the uncertainty or the feeling of panic in the air. I do not have sick pay and am expected to work until I get sick. I have to be out all day making myself more likely to be exposed.
If you know someone on the spectrum who is distressed by this, offer them understanding and comfort. Understand why it can be more distressing for us on the spectrum. Listen to them and recite facts to them.