Intellectual Disabilities and COVID-19

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As the world is constantly changing, most of us take the minor bumps in stride. We adjust minute by minute almost naturally and hang on for the ride.  As the world is faced with Covid 19, the bump has become a mountain that we are all trying to climb and cope with.  Having this in perspective, I would like everyone to consider the life of an individual dealing with Autism or another Intellectual Disability.  Maybe we all need to gain A Better Understanding of what those individuals and families are dealing with.  Not only on a daily basis, but as a result of the Coronavirus. 

Due to the nature of Autism and Intellectual Disabilities, structure becomes a necessity.  While every day is a challenge, routine eases many of the issues that this population deal with. Look at how everyone’s plans and days change in a split second.  Most of us can improvise or adjust, and we do it without thought.  Simple changes, as it pertains to Autism/ID can change the whole dynamic of every day life

If any of you have seen a child with ASD, you may have noticed that they may line up their toys or stack items.  There is a specific place that each toy should be, and if it is out of place the child will quickly place it where he/she needs it.  It is the routine and structure that they desire and need.  It almost becomes a necessity.  Due to the structure of the brain, there can easily and quickly be a meltdown if there is a change in that routine or structure.  This need for consistency applies to every aspect of life.  If Thursday night is pizza night, then EVERY Thursday is pizza night.  Beyond that, it had better be the same pizza.  If it isn’t, then it may get chewed up and spit out. 

Autism is sensory driven and individuals with the disorder have challenges with all of their senses.  Sight, Touch, Taste, Smell, and Hearing are the external senses that we all have, however there are internal senses that we all have.  These senses control digestion, balance, and movement.  Everything around us every day are providing information to our brain and body continuously.  For many of us this is subliminal and we do not even take them into consideration.   Neurotypical individuals are typically able to cope easily to the sensory stimuli. 

Having challenges with the senses, individuals with Autism sometimes have trouble coping with change.  Their brains and bodies absorb so much more than the rest of us who may be neurotypical.  So a simple change of temperature, or the sound of a police siren may create a problem. There are individuals who are overwhelmed by the sound of the air coming out of the air conditioner vents. T  Being over stimulated may lead to behavior such as flapping their hands or humming to drown out the over stimulation.  In some cases they may act out or have a melt-down which could appear catastrophic.  A simple change in the routine of daily life may create an inconsolable outburst.  Imagine what families go through when their child goes back to start the school year.  That is a change of routine.  As it may take a couple of weeks for school to become routine for that child, they slowly acclimates to the new routine.  I have met many families who say that this period of time is very stressful.  These families have to prepare for foreseeable changes such as teacher work days, holiday breaks, and eventually the end of the school year.  Melt downs will happen and the families try to prepare.  So what about the unplanned or unexpected changes?

With the introduction of Covid 19, our whole world has changed.  We are all adapting to a new normal.  I would like for all of us to consider the strain on families dealing with Autism or other Intellectual Disabilities.  While all of us are adapting to major changes in our life, these families are adapting while trying to cope with this enormous disruption in their child’s life. With quarantines in place, imagine the issues the families are dealing with when Monday night is pizza night.  The family routinely goes out for pizza at their favorite restaurant and that restaurant is closed.   I urge everyone to offer a kind word and be empathetic.  These families and individuals do not want your pity.  They want to beet that they matter.  Let these families know they are in your thoughts.  Imagine how the Coronavirus has changed your life, and you can magnify that change exponentially when it comes to these “special needs” families.

While many people hear the word Autism and they think of children.  These children become adults with Autism/ID.  They are working at businesses around us and even work in the corporate world.  Their lives may be centered around the routine of going to work everyday and going to the store for groceries mid-week.  With Covid-19, the office is now closed.  The favorite (routine) grocery store has empty shelves.  The routine of leaving the house to go to work each day is disrupted.  Going to the grocery store to buy your routine food for your routine daily meals is disrupted.  Imagine the struggle and frustration.  If my favorite bread is not on the shelf, I pick another.  They need their favorite bread to be there.  While it may seem insignificant to a neurotypical person,  it may be catastrophic to anyone on the Spectrum.

 I would encourage empathy and A Better Understanding.  We live amongst individuals with disabilities.  Some of these disabilities are noticeable, and some are not.  Understanding of disabilities goes a long way in realizing every single person on this earth matters.  We should be here to build each other up, regardless how different they are from us.  We are all in this together.

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