Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the painful and heartbreaking week we have had in our nation surrounding the murder of George Floyd. It is a profoundly distressing reminder to all of us of the deep racism that pervades our country. At AANE, we know many in our community feel deeply about issues of social justice. For those who are members of both the black community and the autism community, we see the compounded risk you face every day. For many who were already feeling anxious and isolated, we understand how this intensifies the difficulties you are experiencing. There is no place for hate in our community. We are committed to creating a world where those of every race and difference are accepted, and everyone is seen as an equal member of our society.
Today, I want to talk about the deep uncertainty many are feeling as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our lives and cause encompassing worry. With so much we still do not know about the virus, the flurry of contradictory information that circulates, the vast range of effects the virus can have on a person, and differing rules of what is and isn’t allowed from city to city or state to state, there are so many unresolved questions:
- Should I wear a mask when walking?
- Will daycare or camp be open and if so, will it be safe for my child to attend?
- Will college classes be in person or online this fall?
- Can I take public transportation safely?
- Will the virus make a resurgence in the fall?
- Even when a vaccine is created, will it be protective?
These unanswered questions and many more cause a great deal of angst and feel overwhelming. How does somebody with an Asperger/autism profile, for whom preparation for what’s coming, routine, and consistency makes life manageable, deal with these unavoidable stressors?
I wish I could say we will have clear answers soon, but unfortunately I don’t believe we will for some time. I have a few suggestions, however, for how to navigate this vast sea of uncertainty.
- Focus on what you can control. Instead of fixating on the unknowable future, what can you do right now? Form a new routine within the parameters of your changed world.
- Make sure you have someone you can talk to. Whether it is someone in your household or whether you have to connect virtually, find someone with whom you can share your thoughts without judgement.
- Divert your attention with things that are interesting and fun for you. Instead of obsessing about the things that are difficult, give your mind a much needed break.
- Finish the day with something you enjoy and preferably not the news. Troubling information and disturbing images will make it very difficult for you to get the restorative rest you need.
- Stay connected with others who have shared interests. Keeping up connections with others, especially now, is vital to avoid isolation.
- Try not to reverse the usual day/night schedule. While no longer having to adhere to an external routine has been beneficial for many, put limits on gaming, internet use, and video watching that might cause you to stay up way too late. Give yourself something to look forward to doing in the morning that will help you wake up at a reasonable hour.
- Recognize that worrying about something does not change the outcome. No matter how much you fixate on something, it will not change it.
Of course everyone is feeling out of sync and disoriented, but if this situation is causing you deep grief, extreme anxiety, depression, excessive drinking, use of drugs, or obsessive internet use, seek help from someone you trust.
I want to finish by acknowledging the number of adults in our community who work in essential public settings, such as supermarkets and hospitals. I’m sure I can say for the entire community that we are appreciative and grateful for the work you do. To those in our community who have experienced illness or the death of friends or loved ones, I wish for you comfort and peace.
I hope these difficult times will be over soon. Until then, please take care of yourselves and stay safe and healthy.