Autism and Lockdown

Lockdown has been a difficult adjustment for many people. There are many articles about how mental health is impacted by isolation itself and concerns about health, family, money and the future have raised uncertainty and anxiety for many.

For adults and children with Autism this can be a particularly difficult time.

Autism affects how people perceive and interact with the world and can make social interaction and communication difficult.

Autism is a spectrum condition, which means that each person is affected differently. Anxiety and overwhelm are often things that autistic people experience, and this makes lockdown and the uncertainty it brings potentially even harder for them.

Part of helping to keep overwhelm and anxiety to a minimum is routine and structure. Having daily routines in place and knowing about changes ahead of time can minimise these feelings and allow time to adapt to the ‘new’. Lockdown coming so suddenly would have caused a huge sense of anxiety for some autistic people, especially as all daily routines changed with no school/work and no going out to see people.

The fact that there are no definite answers to how long we will be this way and when things can start to look ‘normal’ again will add another layer of anxiety too. Having no answers means not being able to plan ahead or give the unhelpful thoughts that can come with anxiety an answer.

So what does overwhelm look like?

For children overwhelm can look like anger, sadness, needing more reassurance or cuddles, not settling to tasks or being argumentative and challenging.

For adults it can include limited communication, no appetite or overeating, poor sleep or wanting to sleep all the time, difficulty concentrating or becoming obsessed over certain things.

What can help?

So, how can we support and help this feeling of overwhelm and anxiety when we can’t give the usual solutions?

It means being creative with your thinking, having time to listen and reassure and upping any sensory or calming activities to help offset some of the big feelings that are there. Below are some suggestions for ideas and support to help in this hugely unusual time.

  • Create a new routine that suits the way you are living now. Having times for study or work and times set aside to be creative and active can help create a sense of security and calmness. Keeping to a regular bedtime makes a difference too. Being tired makes it harder to manage big emotions.
  • Use a visual time table. These can be downloaded or you can draw one as a family. Using symbols and displaying it somewhere you can all see it helps with the feeling of what happens next.
  • Be active. This doesn’t mean having a walk, although if it doesn’t cause anxiety then being outside can be very beneficial to overall health. Dancing and yoga can also help to burn off the restless feelings or calm a busy brain. There are some excellent children’s yoga stories on YouTube that can be fun for the whole family to join in and aren’t about being still but encourage calm breathing.
  • Look at how sensory needs are being met. Having a warm shower or bath before bed can help sleep. Using weighted layers on the bed can feel calming. Big bear hugs or rolling up in a blanket can help ease overwhelm. Using headphones to create space and quiet in a noisy busy house can help. Fidget toys and stretchy items can help with restless hands.
  • Create a calming box or bag with things that comfort and support when overwhelm is happening. Maybe a glitter calming bottle, favourite toy, book or pens to draw or write feelings, squashy toys or slime, ear plugs or chewing gum. Put it in a quiet place that the person can go to for some calm time.
  • Stay in connected with friends and family but be sensitive to the fact that this may be hard via video or phone as social cues can be harder to read and it can add anxiety.
  • Be aware of how long it can take to process new information and limit access to news. It can take time to process ideas and each person’s needs are individual to them. Allowing time to process information can help manage overwhelm. Be aware that there may be a need for extra talking time about things at first.
  • Use social stories or videos to help convey information. There are a few available now regarding Covid 19 that can help explain what is happening. This is an example https://carolgraysocialstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Pandemics-and-the-Coronavirus.pdf
  • Be flexible with how you communicate. It may be easier to discuss things via text or make mind maps of ideas than to try and talk about them.

If you are looking for further information The National Autistic Society have produced some helpful information on Coronavirus to support adults and families. Take a look at their website https://www.autism.org.uk/services/helplines/coronavirus.aspx

Article written by by Fiona Hill