A recently-published article by two professors from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria highlights the effects that the lockdown and the “new normal” are having on those with autism spectrum disorders.
The study, by María Teresa Tejedor y María del Sol Fortea, has been published in The Conversation, and claims that ASD people can be negatively affected by the harsh smell of disinfectant, the gloopy, cold sensation of hand gel, the obstruction caused by face masks, the discomfort of swab tests and the change in people’s appearances caused by wearing masks. “All these things can provoke disorders related with the autistic spectrum,” the authors claim.
The special needs of ASD people and others with mental disorders were not initially recognised by the Spanish government at the start of lockdown, and it took a week before they received explicit legal permission to leave their homes for “therapeutic walks”. Following that decision they were among the few members of society permitted to leave their homes for anything other than absolute necessities. However, there were also reports of autistic people and their carers being insulted by the “balcony police” or attacked on social media during lockdown.
ASD and other mental disorders are also sufficient to exempt people from the compulsory mask rules that have accompanied the “new normal”. Support groups recommend that a disability certificate, a doctor’s diagnosis and a printout of the relevant law be carried at all times.
The study states that the pandemic has affected the fixed routines that ASD people require in their daily lives – closing day centres which provide a safe environment for many of them, as well as a relief for family members who also carers.
Prof. Fortea says “”Our aim is to highlight the difficulties suffered by those on the autistic spectrum. They need a routine, to be well-prepared for all changes, and in the midst of this ever-changing situation they are having a bad time because many don’t understand what’s going on. It’s important that their problems are taken into account because up until now they’ve largely been ignored, apart from the “therapeutic walks” that took so long to be allowed.”
Autistic people who contract the virus are another issue, and the resulting isolation can cause serious trauma. The professors recommend “social scripts” for professionals dealing with autistic people. These are simple story-board type drawings with words that explain the situation clearly and simply.
Families are also recommended to use visual agendas – similar sheets with pictures and words that lay down a routine for the day and steps to be followed in situations such as when leaving the house. The aim is to make the situation as normal and reliable as possible.