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Autism and the Challenges of COVID-19 "Social Isolation"

Updated: May 1, 2020

This post will identify the (perhaps ironic) difficulties COVID-19 social isolation protocols pose for the autistic and provide four suggestions for the best experience.

Wouldn't Social Isolation be the Autistic's Dream?

One of the diagnostic criteria for autism describes social relationships and group activities. The individual on the spectrum is more likely to spend time at home, prefer alone activities to group activities, and have fewer peer friendships than the neurotypical.

With all this love of alone time, wouldn't the recommendation for "social isolation" be a dream for those on the spectrum?

Not necessarily!

Community-Wide Social Isolation Means More People at Home

The home often offers the solitude the ASD individual craves. Perhaps several people live in the house, but most of the time, they are coming and going between school, work, and activities. With community-wide social isolation, schools shut down, and teachers/pupils are now at home. Many other workers are on leave or are working from home remotely.

Now "social isolation" feels very crowded!

How Can the Autistic Find Alone Time in a Crowded House?

1. Awareness

As the home environment becomes more crowded, family members may need to take stock of "who needs what?" Some of the individuals need group games, puzzles, and novel activities like new online shows. Others, like those on the spectrum, are likely to need space. Awareness of the individual needs of those at home will produce the most success during sequestering.

2. Identify Together Space and Alone Space

Be specific about what areas of the house you identify as "alone space" and what areas are "together space." If there isn't solitary space when everyone is home, create some space. Get the tent out of the garage, for example, and put it up in one room. The dining table could save as a "tent" structure with a blanket over and blankets/pillows underneath. Another room may have a book nook or reading area. Let each person know that when an individual is in these spaces, she is taking alone time. When she comes to the family room (or other designated area), she is seeking together time.

3. Schedule Alone Time for Everyone

Perhaps you are a parent or spouse on the spectrum and need alone time to stay grounded. Consider scheduling this time. For example, you may tell your children that 9:00-10:00 is alone time and 1:00-2:00 is alone time. Identify what each child can do during his or her alone time. Tell your children where you will be and what needs they are allowed to ask for help with during that time (e.g., if someone is bleeding).

Between adults, the ASD individual could let others know that he is going to his room for a while to be alone.

4. Noise Level

The house can become very loud when everyone is home, particularly if there are children in the house. Consider picking up some noise-canceling headphones when you are out looking for toilet paper! This step is often a more effective solution than repeatedly telling the children to use their "inside voice."

Increasing awareness of individual needs and making plans -- rather than "winging it" -- can be an excellent approach to the "crowded" spaces of "social isolation."

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