Me.Decoded has been quiet for the past few months, as I needed to focus on myself and my family as we adjusted to a different way of life. For me this has had both ups and downs, and I know that I am not alone in my experience.
As I start to re-emerge from my self-enforced bubble, I would like to share experiences of others .... starting with Lauren.
My Experiences of Lockdown
For many people with autism, this uncertain, stressful time can cause heightened anxiety and upset. This pandemic may be the ‘worst nightmare’ for those who are already socially isolated, those who struggle with anxiety and find routine changes difficult to cope with. Understandably, I have had good days and bad days. Currently, it is unsurprising that there is an increased risk of mental health issues. Although I have found many positive aspects to the lockdown, I have to be careful about not losing my confidence that I’ve worked so hard to build up and not fearing social interaction. I’ve had to learn to adapt quickly to routine changes; despite the massive change, I have lots of ideas of projects I am working on to keep busy. I am pleased that as a distance-learning student at the University East of London, my studies haven’t been too affected since all learning is now done remotely. Despite this, there has been some uncertainty about my university work being marked which has caused huge anxiety.
How I Am Coping in The Current Circumstances:
To help me cope during these unprecedented times, I am trying to reframe any negative automatic thoughts (NAT’s) and reflect upon what is going well. I believe the environment is starting to heal which is giving me the chance to see the beauty in nature. I am seeing how people are valuing human interaction more and are taking the time to recharge batteries. I am enjoying focusing on my goals and catching up with things, I never had time to do, without having the additional pressures and stresses of life. Personally, I am spending lots of time delving into my special interests, working on autism awareness projects to keep me occupied and doing creative projects, including, knitting, rock painting, drawing, baking and photography, to help de-stress and invest in a new hobby. The lockdown is giving me an opportunity to gain vital life skills, for example, learning how to cook and use the washing machine, just the basic skills that other people may take for granted. Most importantly, it has given me the chance to prioritise my mental health, remove toxic relationships and focus on what I want to achieve.
I think it’s important to limit the amount of time that is spent watching the news. I feel that most of the news is contradictory, creating a further sense of panic and confusion. It’s also important to keep in touch with friends and family in whatever way you can to help combat feelings of loneliness, which many people with autism experience on a regular basis. I find writing down my feelings helps – maybe you could write a letter to a friend. In addition, doing something to lift other people’s spirits can be a really positive thing – I baked a cake for the local nursing home staff and made a card for Captain Tom Moore’s 100th birthday. Daily exercise is vital; I enjoy walking the dogs to the beach or park everyday whilst observing social distancing measures. It’s also important to try and develop your own routine with an element of flexibility and fun – I aim to achieve at least two things per day and at the end of the day, I reflect on what I’m proud of. I plan out what I’m going to do every day, even if I have to plan to ‘do nothing.’
Creating social stories to explain to your child what is happening and why can really help. You could create visual prompts to explain how to wash hands, the importance of staying at home and why they cannot see their friends. Although it is tempting, try not to give false hope by stating approximate times when the lockdown will lift – waiting for this day to come may cause more anxiety!
Keep lines of communication as open as possible, to allow your children to express how they are feeling. Mood journaling can be a good way of monitoring how your child is feeling and why. Keeping a diary of memories/experiences during the lockdown period can also help.
Try not to put all the emphasis on home-learning, especially if your child is overwhelmed. The most important thing to do during this time, is to focus on maintaining a positive mindset and making memories with your family.
For more information on my autism projects, please visit ‘A Different Perspective CIC’ on Facebook and Twitter.