The coronavirus pandemic has thrown all of us into an unprecedented time of uncertainty and anxiety as we adapt to life under lockdown. But it poses particular challenges for the UK’s 700,000 autistic people and their families. From supermarket shortages to confusion about government guidance, people living with autism share how COVID-19 is affecting their lives, and how they’re coping with the upheaval.
“This sudden unexpected change and disruption to everyday life is particularly hard for autistic children and adults,” says Caroline Steves, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society (NAS). For many of us a cancelled appointment, empty shelf, or the closure of a local cafe might be an inconvenience, she explains. But for someone with autism it could trigger intense stress and lead to a meltdown or a shutdown – that is, an intense physical or verbal response to feeling overwhelmed, or a more muted response like withdrawing into silence.
“The coronavirus pandemic has introduced us to a world where plans are rarely worth the paper they’re written on. This level of unpredictability can be terrifying for autistic people who count on a routine to bring structure to the otherwise uncertain world,” says James Sinclair, author of the blog Autistic and Unapologetic, who recently posted about how to support autistic people during the pandemic.