The National Autistic Society (NAS) defines autism – medically known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – as “a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world”. According to the NAS, 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK. The term spectrum signifies the sheer complexity of the condition and how it includes a vast range of symptoms and severity. Many children with autism, including my 13-year-old brother, require a vast amount of support in areas such as education, social communication and interaction, and everyday self-regulation. A great sense of organised routine is usually also essential in their lives. For my brother, who pays the closest attention to detail and thrives off routine, lockdown literally rocked his world.
The government’s ruling to inflict a national lockdown in March took an unprecedented toll on my brother’s sense of orientation and understanding of his environment. For the first few weeks, however, he took the whole thing as one big holiday. Unable to completely understand the dire situation concerning the coronavirus outbreak, why his school had been closed or why everyone in Sainsbury’s was wearing masks, he found his new surroundings interesting and exciting even, asking for an Adidas face mask so he could look “cool”.
His high-spirited approach to lockdown soon enough dwindled and turned into extreme anxiety and despondency. The closing of my brother’s school meant my family and I had to integrate his school routine within the home routine. However, his condition causes him to keep track of what will become of each day every day. What may seem like a simple transition for the average child, meshing home with school, proved extremely difficult for my brother. In his mind, his bedroom desk just couldn’t imitate his classroom tables. My parents and I simply weren’t his teachers and just couldn’t take on their roles. The incessant need to distinguish between what must be in place at home and what must remain in school meant that the merging of the two spaces proved too overwhelming for my brother. He began avoiding school work and opting to sleep more throughout the day; trying to avoid a now very unfamiliar world. When sleeping became a tedious sport, he would resort to repetitive behaviour – a common trait found in people with autism – constantly asking “when will corona finish?”, a question no one had the answer to during the early months of lockdown.
It took a great deal for my brother to eventually adapt to a new routine, and after months at home around the same old people, his mind struggled even more to get to grips with school returning in September. Having to now revert back to aspects of his old routine such as early mornings and his school bus coming to collect him, my brother became aggravated at the ever-changing government guidelines and this increased his anxiety and confusion. Though we all grew tired of the English government’s wavering around which approach to take as everything started opening up again, people with autism suffered the most harm.
In September, the National Autistic Society produced ‘Left Stranded’, a report on the impact of coronavirus on autistic people. The report wrote: ‘In our survey, 78% said they were concerned about following the Government’s rules.’
It’s evident that government failure to carefully consider the needs and difficulties of children (and adults alike) with autism has created further hardship and struggles for the likes of my brother and thousands of others during the pandemic, with 9 out of 10 autistic people worried about their mental health during lockdown.
Thousands of autistic people already suffer from isolation, restraint and over-medication in mental hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983 which deems autism as a mental disorder. The imposing of lockdowns and restrictions only worked to accentuate the already present problems – lack of government funding on social services and a lack of overall awareness on the fact that people with autism need far more attention and assistance than neurotypical people…now more than ever.
What you can do to help
- Educate yourself and others on autism. From my own experience, not everyone has encountered my brother in a caring and patient manner simply because they don’t understand him. They don’t understand autism and the difficulties the condition entails. Educating yourself is so important to help approach autism with understanding and respect – https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/what-is-autism
- Join the campaign for the rights and interest of autistic people and their families – https://www.autism.org.uk/what-we-do/campaign
- Donate. Your contributions go a long way to ensure that people with autism and their families gain the support they need – https://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/donate