Parent's Take: Coping with Coronavirus

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At least two more weeks of school closures, but, chances are two weeks is a pipe dream. Two more weeks sounds like an interminable amount of time. I fully understand and support social distancing to slow down the spread of Coronavirus cases and recognize that it is impacting EVERYONE, but, for my 18-year-old son with autism who struggles with any kind of disruption in routine, the impact has hit him hard.

Don’t get me wrong, he is not minding all the extra screen time, because on any given weekend or weeknight you will find my son happily social distancing himself in his bedroom with Mario and Luigi, Minecraft zombies and the latest YouTubers, but, losing the much-needed routine and structure of the school day takes a toll. I know, what you are thinking, well, if the kid needs routine, establish a new routine at home. Ah, but, there it is again, that word “new”. If we add a new routine at home that was not the routine we had at home before, it feels like more disruption and it makes him even more uncomfortable. And here we are.

In addition to all these disruptions, my son is a senior this year and like all the high school (and college) seniors, my son is losing the opportunity for many of his “lasts”. His last trip to NYC with his musical friends, his last spring concert, his first and last honors recital, and what is hurting him the most, his last high school musical. He is certainly no different than any other senior in this country right now, but, what is different is how my son will process these losses.

There will be outright indignation and a little denial that someone changed the schedule or the rules (that disruption in a routine again). There will be some understanding of the importance of these cancellations, but, my son will have a tougher time than most neurotypical students to see the big picture of the necessity for all of these missed opportunities that he won’t get back. And finally, there will be more isolation. The only opportunity for socialization for my son is at school. He does not socialize with friends outside of school. He will not be joining friends on zoom meetings, Facetime calls or virtual hangouts of any kind and this will not only be detrimental to him it is detrimental to his mother who worries so much about this isolation.

I know we are all in this together, but, for our loved ones with autism, who may be used to social distancing, this type of isolation is different, so it presents a new set of challenges. We need to practice more patience, more understanding, and more kindness. Isn’t that really what we all need right now?