Is Lockdown creating a more autism friendly world?
Is lockdown creating a more autism friendly world?
Social distancing, working from home, less traffic and aircraft noise, no pressure to go out and socialise – some of the unprecedented consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have actually made life easier for some of my autistic clients.
I am a coach who specialises in supporting autistic adults to find employment and support them, and their managers, in the work place. Having previously worked for the National Autistic Society as an Autism Practice Facilitator, I now provide work place support and conduct work place assessments for the NAS as well as providing coaching support directly to individuals and organisations. You can find out more about me and the work I do on my website https://www.rosevanscoaching.com/
I do provide coaching support to many clients on a virtual basis using Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime or just over the phone. Fortunately we have been able to continue our sessions despite lockdown. For those I normally meet in person adjusting to meeting virtually has been just one of the many transitions and changes to routine they have faced.
Despite that during the early weeks of lockdown, I was amazed how well my autistic clients were coping. One man who I have been supporting for a number of years, meeting once a month for 1.5 hours, emailed me to say he didn’t think he needed so much time at the moment as the majority of the challenges he faces at work that cause anxiety, sap his energy or cause distraction or overwhelm are no longer a problem as he is self-isolating and working from home. We now just connect for half an hour each month on the phone.
Another client who normally works 4 days a week from home as a reasonable adjustment, has really stepped up supporting her Neurotypical team members in best practices of working remotely and coping with feeling isolated and ostracized. Her manager is delighted at how this situation has actually improved her working relationships with colleagues and commented that her productivity and creativity has increased as she is able to focus better by working more flexible hours and conserving energy without the pressure of commuting. Another client who also works 4 days a week from home said that he is actually having more social interaction with colleagues as team members message each other more and are setting up regular video calls.
However as time goes by issues with anxiety and loneliness are having an impact on mental health and affecting social and executive skills.
I had an extra session with one client as she was catastrophizing about sanitation and cleaning. Living alone with minimal social contact she had no benchmark to determine if she was being sensible or becoming obsessive. We worked together to develop new routines and coping strategies which have reduced her anxiety and enabled her to continue working effectively.
It’s not been that straight forward with everyone. Difficulties coping with change of routine and having to learn new social rules can be confusing and exhausting. This is made worse if activities that normally help reduce anxiety and provide predictability are no longer possible. Not being able to get out for a walk or run without fear of people coming too close, not being able to obtain favourite foods or brands that make life pleasant and calm, or not knowing how to behave in the supermarket as the unwritten rules have changed can all cause increased anxiety, depression and even panic attacks for some clients.
Undoubtedly this is a difficult and frightening time for everyone and overall I have been relieved and amazed by how my clients have coped and the resilience they have shown. Keeping regular contact does help. Being able to listen, reinforce or develop coping strategies, share a story and a joke as well as working through specific work related issues has been wonderfully rewarding for me and I know a great benefit for those I coach.
So is lockdown creating a more autism friendly world? In terms of the environment and sensory overload and reduced requirement to socialise for some - yes, but we still have a long way to go. As one client stated “I have more energy working from home, I can control my environment and have less distractions. And to finish on a positive note – another client says “it’s like a holiday for me as there is no pressure to be sociable.”
Thank you to all my clients for giving me a focus and a routine during this difficult time and for their positivity and insights. I always learn so much from you all.