Autism During a Pandemic

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We have all been hearing it for months at this point. “In these unprecedented times”. We have seen skyrocketing rates of depression in the United States as a result of these shut downs. Some lucky people who have been deemed essential have been able to keep their employment and a semblance of normalcy in their lives, but many Americans feel hopeless and lost. This can be especially true for those on the autism spectrum. Autism typically has a few key characteristics, Author Tracey Cohen describes them as “difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions, repetitive behaviors, any type of change (big or small) and sensory difficulties which can change day to day and include sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, balance and body awareness.”. I think anyone can see how times like this would have an even larger negative impact on someone who lives with autism on a daily basis. Autism is most often associated with young boys, this can often mean that the signs of autism are missed in girls and older individuals. This is even more dangerous in this time of pandemic because if we do not recognize the signs of autism in certain individuals, it will be much more difficult to know who is at particular risk for severe depression and anxiety. I could go on but I would rather you hear about this directly from the source. Below will be an article written exclusively for Last Weeks Nonsense by Author Tracey Cohen. She was diagnosed with autism late in life and has since written a series of books on the topic. I worked with Tracey for a short period of time and I can tell you that she is one of the most dedicated people I have ever met. So here it is in her own words:

What Do You Do?

How does one react when faced with a pandemic making it seem as though the world has been turned inside out and leaves a person feeling alone, helpless, scared, confused?

For me, while I most certainly had never been through a pandemic, the feelings of vulnerability, confusion, terror and being alone, an alien in your own home are all too familiar for me.

I was born with autism, but it was not until I was in my third decade of life that my family or I even became aware that autism existed. And it was another nine years before I was diagnosed at the age of 39.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder that affects the nervous system, and while every person on the spectrum is unique, common symptoms include difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions, repetitive behaviors, any type of change (big or small) and sensory difficulties which can change day to day and include sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, balance and body awareness.

From the time, I was an infant, my life was riddled with misunderstandings and due to my own lack of insight and poor communication skills, I was ill-equipped to inform my family what I needed, how I viewed the world and how their own words and actions affect me.

Life has always been a challenge to say the least, but when I stumbled upon the knowledge that the autism spectrum existed, the many difficulties that I have always faced and the numerous conflicts my family and I have endured, despite their love and best intentions, suddenly became clear.

Like my life, the road to diagnosis was anything but smooth; nevertheless, I was grateful for answers that explained so much, and while diagnosis itself does not cure anything, for me and my family it has provided validation, answers for the unknown and insight allowing me to make better decisions for myself as well as clarity for my family to better understand why I am the way I am.

Being a person who has always wanted to help and be of service to others, led me on my journey of writing my first book, Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome: 100 Lessons to Understand and Support Girls and Women with Asperger’s. I felt that if I could help others, even a few, learn more about autism and some of the challenges more specific to women then it would be worth every effort. If I could help individuals on the spectrum not feel alone and better understand themselves, as many leaders in the field have done for me, then nothing could be more important. For this reason I have willingly unveiled many of my own vulnerabilities and less than prideful moments and characteristics. Never could I have envisioned the overwhelming interest, support and opportunities that would transpire for which I am eternally grateful.

So, when the pandemic took hold and left me flailing, stripping me of my job, purpose, routine and the very fragile confidence that I have struggled to acquire, I did what I have always done. I mourned and pouted and eventually, slowly, picked myself back up and took steps to move forward which included my intentions of writing my third book, My Life on the Autism Spectrum: Misunderstandings, Insight & Growth, which came to fruition August 9, 2020.

As we continue to fumble our way through these most troubling times, let’s not lose hope. We will fall and have sad, bleak days, weeks, perhaps even months. But we can always recreate ourselves; grab hold of the good that does exist in our world one baby step at a time. And while I am as far from perfect as an individual can get, let each and every one of us look out not just for ourselves, family and friends but for our world at large no matter our differences. In actuality, we are far more similar than ‘worlds apart’ and remember…kindness and respect do not require fondness for another. To learn more about myself, my books and workshops that I can provide, please visit http://www.growingupautistic.com/tracey.html.

Tracey Cohen, author, autism advocate, educator, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and lifelong competitive runner, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of thirty-nine. Sharing her own struggles and discoveries, she aims to empower others to learn, accept and find peace in an ever complicated neurotypical world. Tracey is also the author of Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome and Six-Word Lessons on the Sport of Running.

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