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TAYLOR MITCHELL: Autism, the pandemic and building new routines (column)

Taylor Mitchell

Taylor Mitchell

It has been said many times that the coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented situation.

A million journalists around the world have run the same quote and told the same story. It is something no one saw coming, it's something that nobody had a plan for and it’s something that has disrupted everyone’s routines.

The question comes about what this means for those who rely on those routines a bit more than others, namely people on the autism spectrum.

Autism is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a disorder where a person shows persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, and more importantly in this context, restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities.

Due to this repetitive pattern of behavior, routines become hard-wired, and it is often nearly impossible to change them. 

Yet, for everyone, routines have had to change, and Autistic children and adults are not immune.

I am on the spectrum myself, and for me, the change to my routine has been the source of some anxiety. 

Working from home is very different from the highly-structured work at the office. While some days it has challenged me to do more work than a typical day, others it hasn’t. 

Some days, I languish in anxiety and lack of productivity. It may do the same for you or your children. 

The important thing we must all do, but is often most helpful for someone on the spectrum, is to build a routine in the place of the old one. 

Start by looking at your original routine. Surely, there are some things you can salvage. Keep getting up at the same time, cook your breakfast like you always have, remember to get dressed like you otherwise would.

I, for one, have been really freaked out by this working in your pajamas thing many of my friends have been doing, so while I may not dress for the office, I always get dressed. That's a little thing, but it's often the smallest details that cause the largest issues, at least for me. 

For a child with autism, it may be as simple as you need to look over spelling first when homeschooling because the child always goes over spelling first when at school. 

From there, you can build a whole routine with the framework of the old one but adapted for the home.

I think another thing that's very important in this process for autistics, especially adults, is to admit that it's fine to be anxious. It's an unprecedented situation, so why would anyone expect you to not be? 

Many adults on the spectrum already have coping mechanisms in place, and this is the time to fall back on them. It may even be the time to find new ones. I meditate, and it's been really helpful, but so has just mindlessly rubbing two quarters together. Find something that works and do that because there is no reason to just sit there about to explode. 

I think the most important thing right now, whether you are on the spectrum or neurotypical, is to find a center in all this chaos. Make this work for you, you can overcome it.

Taylor Mitchell is a staff writer for The Daily Home and is based out of the paper’s Pell City office. He was diagnosed as autistic as a high school junior.

Taylor Mitchell, Daily Home reporter covering Pell City.