April is Autism Acceptance Month and we’re getting some unique perspectives on the added challenges the pandemic has brought on for people with autism.
We spoke with an occupational therapist and a national speaker who is autistic. Both say nonverbal communication has been tough through the computer and through masks.
“For people like myself, we struggle with things like eye contact, so looking directly at a camera for long periods of time, similar to looking someone in the eye, is a very, very challenging process,” said Kerry Magro, professional speaker and author.
“I feel like a lot of my interactions, typically I try and reduce my language, in order to not overwhelm the amount that they have to interpret and respond to and I typically like to use a lot more facial expressions and gestures. But a lot of my facial expressions can be hindered by the mask plus the shield, and so I would say I’ve had to learn how to use my eyebrows and my eyes a lot more, and a lot more like big body expressions,” said Dr. Julie Yaroni, an pccupational therapist.
The pandemic has also changed up routines for nearly everyone. That's something that has presented a lot of sensory and transition challenges for people with autism.
However, the autism spectrum is very wide and the shift to being at home has actually been beneficial for some because they don't have to focus on so-called "soft skills" as much. Those are things like your attitude, flexibility, motivation and manners that enable you to fit in at work or school.
“Being able to have the choice to stay remote the whole year has in a way, provided more stability for them and reduced all that social anxiety, so they can attend more to the class aspects,” said Yaroni.
As we try to shift back to normalcy with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, it has brought back some old debates in the autism community. Many people started re-asking the question if vaccines can lead to autism.
“We've kind of just deliberately said ‘no, there's no medical detection that says vaccines will cause autism within our community,’” said Magro. “So many autistic adults, like myself, we want to get the vaccine as soon as humanly possible.”
In the meantime, he says remember to check in on the mental health of your loved ones. The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but a return to old routines is possible.