Medical professionals, first response workers, those directly serving the public, and other essential workers during this COVID-19 pandemic face daily, exhausting challenges. This situation can be even more difficult for workers with Asperger/autism or other neurodiverse profiles. Communication skills are now more daunting, creating the risk of heightened isolation and disruption in otherwise structured and predictable routines. They may experience extreme anxiety and depression along with intense sensory issues due to the use of any personal protective equipment they must use. While we are all facing deep uncertainty, people on the autism spectrum may experience elevated vulnerability–socially, psychologically and economically.
However, AANE sees many of the individuals on the autism spectrum that we work with continue to report to their jobs everyday and persevere in this historic time of change. You can find these incredible individuals in hospitals working directly with doctors and other medical staff, research labs, supermarkets, and even working in defense and industrial organizations. They have found ways to contribute, like volunteering at food banks and creating videos on YouTube for sheltering in place activities. They have become mentors helping others who experience social isolation.
AANE’s LifeMAP program serves clients in the areas of employment, self care, recreation, education and personal growth, and although our clients are confronting profound upheaval during this time, they continue to thrive and make improvements. Whether their role is recognized by the public or their job is silently working behind the scenes, they know the importance of what they do and have risen to the challenge to continue on.
One client working in a supermarket even joked, “This job is nothing to sneeze at… No, seriously, don’t sneeze at it, for health reasons.”
Another AANE LifeMAP client employed at a major Boston hospital in food service stated, “There are risks everyday when you walk through the door, but you know that there are healthcare workers and patients counting on you.”
Some of our clients on the spectrum have provided public health information through local access public television. Others are employed as lab technicians and ER doctors–all understanding the risks to their own health, but keeping their commitment to serve. As a lab technician in our community stated, “I’m proud to serve the medical community, although the risk of virus exposure is always there.”
One LifeMAP client who has delivered meals for eight years said, “As a volunteer with the Amherst Survival Center, I’ve gone to the food bank every Monday to pick up orders and deliver them. Lots of people can’t afford to go to the supermarket. This is most likely the only source where they can get a lunch. I volunteer because I want to give back for their generous offerings. Now during the pandemic, it hits home how important it is to volunteer at the local survival center and food bank.”
As all of us struggle to navigate life in this new world, we see an unwavering effort and resolve in the individuals with autism we work with as they continue to serve their community everyday. They touch the lives of those they help with their energy, bravery, and compassion.
AANE celebrates these individuals who provide their tireless service with a dedicated commitment through these uncharted times. We thank all of our heroes in our community.