Voices of Our Tomorrow

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Autism in a global pandemic

By: Kayla Upton

Mental health has always been a big issue in our world, whether it’s post-war veterans with PTSD or adolescents with abandonment issues and separation anxiety. Mental health is important to everyone, regardless of age. But the disorder I want to highlight today is autism, and how people on this spectrum have been coping through the recent pandemic.

According to the Autism Speaks website, “Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.” Many people who are higher on the spectrum tend to need more assistance and guidance from family, therapists, or caregivers. With Covid-19 affecting so many people, this may affect many people with autism, both physically and emotionally.

One way this pandemic affects people with autism is the need to wear masks. Nobody particularly enjoys wearing these masks, and as soon as we’re somewhere safe, we take them off and enjoy taking a deep breath of fresh air.

But others might have problems with this — not just with wearing the mask but keeping it on in public as well. Depending on how far on the spectrum someone is, some people are unable to control their responses or practice patience and self-control.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, the consumer health division of Harvard Medical School, “many people with ASD are highly sensitive to touch, and the face can be especially so. Wearing a face mask involves many unpleasant sensations.” This may cause the person to want to take off the mask or keep removing it, which increases their chances of catching the virus.

Another difficulty people with autism are experiencing during this pandemic is social distancing. Caregivers, parents, and teachers are a big part of their world, and without them they might not feel safe or comfortable, especially with those who enjoy or rely on physical communication and education. On the other hand of physical learning, people on the spectrum who like learning with toys, tools, or other items might have to cut back, so they don’t catch the virus, unless someone is there to help fully clean and sterilize everything with them.

The last challenge I would like to bring into the light is the emotional side of how people who are autistic are dealing with this pandemic. While many of us have an understanding that there is currently research for treatments and vaccinations for Covid-19, and maybe, eventually, the world will go back to normal, some people on the autism spectrum might not understand that.

I hope we can bring these issues to light and be both more understanding to those suffering, and hopefully find alternative solutions to help those with autism cope throughout this pandemic. We need to stick together as a community and support each other, no matter our disabilities or differences.

Editor’s note:

The idea of youth voice takes on many forms, including sharing experiences and ideas with policy makers, which many of the young people of Our Tomorrow have done. Youth leaders within the Our Tomorrow network have learned about funding for youth services and are participating in a task force with adults to form recommendations on investments in youth, presented their ideas on sex education to the State Board of Education, and participated in our annual civics fair, Speak Up! Speak Out! 

However, young people’s experiences and ideas are abundant and we at Our Tomorrow and UP Partnership wanted to create a space for them to share their thoughts on current issues they face and those they see on the news. Voices of Our Tomorrow is a series of blogs that we will share every Thursday that highlight these experiences, thoughts and opinions.

These thoughts and opinions do not expressly represent the thoughts of UP Partnership, its leadership team or board of directors.