Coronavirus Pandemic: How It’s Effecting Those With Autism

May 14, 2020 | 6 minutes 08 seconds

Transcript

Vicki:

Welcome to an HMC HealthWorks podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on people with autism. Disruptions to our daily lives and schedule present unique challenges, and especially for individuals on the autism spectrum and also for their families. We’re joined by Staci DeFazio. She’s the senior vice president of marketing and communication at HMC HealthWorks, and Staci has an adult son with autism. Thank you for joining us today, Staci.

Staci:

Thanks, Vicki.

Vicki:

So, I wanted to talk to you about how is your son handling with confusion around COVID-19?

Staci:

Well, thanks for asking. Firstly, I’d like to say that autism has many facets, and every person is different and has different triggers. For example, my son is high functioning, but he still cannot live or work on his own. He developed misperceptions and fears about COVID-19 through reading it online and watching the news. As we know, the news really hypes it up. What was helpful for us was asking him directly, “What do you know about COVID-19? What are you afraid of?” And by listening to what his response was, we were able to separate the facts versus the myths that he had. Also, ironically we used HMC’s Myth Busters flyer as a visual aid to help him understand those differences.

Vicki:

Wow, Staci. Those are really good strategies. I mean, even folks that are not on the spectrum, it is always important to ask them directly, what do they know about it? What are they afraid of? And I happened to use that same Myth Busters flyer when I was talking to some seniors who were having anxiety over it.

Vicki:

The next thing I wanted to ask you about is in my reading and experience with autistic individuals, I’ve read and I’ve observed that they need a daily routine. Has this disruption impacted your son’s daily routine and has been a problem? Has it been a problem?

Staci:

Well, yes, you’re absolutely right that routines are key for anyone on the spectrum. His routines have changed, but there are also routines that remain the same. Mealtime, his standard call with his grandma every Thursday, and bedtimes are important to keep with the same schedule. But we’ve also replaced the usual activities that he has, bowling on Wednesday nights and some of the group outings that he has. And we’ve replaced it with more social aspects of gaming with friends, Zoom calls, and just replacing those other things with new things so that he still has some semblance of a routine.

Vicki:

Those are definitely great modifications. So, how would you say that your son is coping overall with this new normal?

Staci:

I mean, he has his ups and downs like all of us do. We regularly remind him to practice his coping skills and forcing what helped him in challenging situations in the past for him. He loves listening to his favorite people on YouTube for meditation, and also playing his video games are really helpful to use his tools when he starts to get anxious.

Vicki:

That’s good. That’s nice to hear. So, you also mentioned your son does not work. How is he feeling in the boredom and the isolation?

Staci:

So, removing the social isolation is key. Again, it’s not only autism, right? It’s everybody that might be living alone. It’s a very lonely time. He’s been reaching out to old friends through Facebook to schedule gaming sessions with them. He belongs to the several autism groups that are now holding Zoom calls instead of in-person. Then also we’re trying to schedule things for him to look forward to because many of the events have been canceled, so making sure we’re scheduling a long-term event with family members, or social distance by walking. Just last Sunday, his sister came up and they planted vegetables together in the garden. So, all these things for something for him to look forward to is very important.

Vicki:

Oh, that sounds lovely. I bet they had a good time, and they got great weather, so that made it even more memorable.

Staci:

Absolutely.

Vicki:

I was going to ask you also, are there any other tools that you find helpful for your son?

Staci:

Yeah. I mean, mental health. I know that agencies have been focusing so much on that lately with the COVID-19, and that’s the same with autism or any other person. He keeps his regularly scheduled therapy appointments that are now on video instead of in person. It’s so important for him to continue to receive his mental health services as he’s having difficulty coping with this new normal, which again is not only someone on the spectrum. It’s all of us.

Vicki:

Staci that is such a great observation. I wanted to ask you before we close if you had one final thought to share, what would that be?

Staci:

I always try to look at the positive, and my words to him every day, as we talk is, This will pass, and things might be different going forward, but what is important that we are stayed together and we’re healthy.

Vicki:

Thank you, Staci. Those are really wise words. Once again, we really appreciate you being here, sharing your experience and your helpful tips. I wanted to remind our listeners to stay tuned for future HMC HealthWorks podcasts and go to hmchealthworks.com for more information on a healthy mind and a healthy body.