Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Spanish in NCH-Autistic Claim. It has been translated and transcribed with the author’s permission. She remains anonymous due to the fact that she is a minor.
Part 1 of this article belongs to a 16-year-old autistic girl. I have asked her permission to share it with you because I think it is very important that you read it to begin to understand autistic characteristics usually considered “deficient” and “abnormal” from a completely new perspective, a voice that needs to be heard by society. Part 2 contains my reflections and insights.
Part 1: Surviving COVID-19 like an Autistic
How should we prepare ourselves to overcome the psychological impact of the state of emergency?
In these moments of crisis, the world is no longer adapted to you, the neurotypicals. So tell me… How do you feel? Is it comfortable? No?
Well, that is what we autistic people live daily since we are born. Right now, our one major difference is that we are compelled to adapt to this world made for you without taking our own well-being into consideration.
Now, although we can’t say that the roles have been reversed, you are going through something that we typically experience and eventually learn to deal with. And since we (or at least I) are not as mean as you are, I am going to explain 4 tools that we autistic people use to manage our daily lives. Usually, these tools are very negatively perceived by you. You can use these tips to make the most of this situation with at least half of your mental health in tact:
Dancing, flapping, shaking, rolling, babbling, singing, and many other activities can be stimulating. The only thing that matters is that you move and you like it. Staying in bed is not an option as you will eventually become depressed, not only mentally, but also physically.
- Make a schedule for the news, social networks, and people, both inside and outside your home. This is a situation where your energy bar will always be at halfway, and I know it is very hard for you not to “listen” or “support” the people around you who are feeling bad.
- But understand this: you must be in battery-saving mode, or you will feel bad, too. Instead of helping, you will only make it worse when you eventually have to impose boundaries.
- And to parents: do not impose no cell phone rules at the table, especially if your rules are only because meals are a space for socialization. You will be socializing all day with your family, anyway. Do not add more stress for the sake of tradition.
Have a routine.
- Have a routine, or so-called inflexible thinking. Doing something in the same place, at the same time, and for the same amount of time speeds up the task and reduces the need to process new stimuli.
- That’s why we autistic people close ourselves off to routine, and that is just what you should do during this quarantine with all those tasks that burden you. It will make them quicker and more comfortable to do.
- I know those words sound strange… but it’s actually very simple. Do things you like and focus on them. Intensely. Have you finished work? Done socializing and watching the news? Have you stimmed until getting tired? Then why don’t you read that book you “never have time for”? Or start a new hobby?
- Any activity that you like will be useful for this, you just have to do it with real passion as if your life depended on it. That will help to kill all the dead hours, and before you know it… the quarantine will be over.
And as they say in the autistic community, #StayHealthy. That means putting your mental and physical health as your number one priority. And believe me, you’ll need to be in good health to fix all the other problems this quarantine brings with it.
Part 2: What Non-Autistics have Lost in Quarantine
This quarantine represents, at the very least, a situation where neurotypicals all over the world have lost a set of privileges they always took for granted. Some characteristics of society that prioritized the needs of neurotypical neurology have disappeared:
- The freedom to socialize in the way they socialize.
- The freedom to come into physical contact at all times they need to.
- The sources of stimulation that neurotypicals use to regulate themselves sensorially and physically: sporting events, parties, shopping, weekend outings, concerts– in short, basically, all kinds of entertainment and retail therapy.
- The access to work, and with it, the certainty of knowing that you will bring food home.
- Access to an education adapted to your needs and those of your children, and with it, the right to dream of a future.
- Access to mental health which means having a certain minimum number of avenues for self-help.
- Access to physical health (the difficulties of autistic people to be heard about their ailments deny us access to this right more often than you can imagine).
- The freedom to walk away from the things and people that are overwhelming you, to have your own space.
In short, the freedom to attend to the needs of your body and mind.
All this puts neurotypicals in a situation much closer to the one we autistic people live every day, for years on end. Can you imagine what your life would be like if this quarantine lasted forever? Can you imagine living your life repressing yourself from doing what you need to do to be well?
Imagine that the world is not adapted to your characteristics and needs puts you in a situation of psychological vulnerability that makes the maintenance of your mental health a priority. And it makes those autistic characteristics that are so often pathologized indispensable assets.
Check the indications of the “mental health experts” for quarantine and analyze if it is not exactly what we autistic people do. As one mother commented in the original Spanish article: Why is it wrong if autistic people do it, but it is “the right thing to do” if you are a quarantined neurotypical?
It is time to rethink autism, and this is a UNIQUE opportunity to do so. Today, thanks to COVID-19, a lot of people have the chance to put themselves in our shoes. Let’s encourage them to do so, let’s invite them to reflect:
Autistic behavior is neither “deficient” nor “abnormal.” It is the useful, normal, and appropriate response of human beings living in our circumstances.
- When Parents Say “I HATE AUTISM” Their Words Affect Autistic Lives — June 3, 2020
- For Non-Autistics: How to Survive COVID19 in a World Not Made for Your Neurology — April 21, 2020
- #CoronaVirus: All the Dead are Victims of Ableism — March 29, 2020