For the past week I’ve been feeling increasingly anxious and pessimistic about the human race—especially when I shop in stores with empty shelves. There’s an apocalyptic vibe. Want paper toweling? Forget about it! None at Morton Williams, Target, Food Emporium or CVS, even searching on separate days. Thank goodness, I managed to snag a 12 pack of Charmin toilet paper, though I had to settle for Ultra Strong instead of Ultra-Soft. Finally, after four days of hunting, I discovered “Green Forest” 100% Recycled Paper Towels” at Whole Foods. A package of three skinny rolls cost $6.39—a far cry from the plump, quicker-picker-upper Bounty I always buy—but a Eureka moment nonetheless.
Shopping in super markets has never been one of my favorite activities, but now I feel like I’m in a prequel episode of The Walking Dead, scavenging for life’s necessities that other humans are overbuying and hoarding in a panic. There are no zombies yet, but I can’t help thinking we’re headed in that direction.
My autistic daughter did not understand why all of her favorite flavors of sparkling water and diet soda were unavailable. Every week she writes a meticulous grocery list which includes a changing list of her four preferred beverage choices. Usually, I find her first or second choices, but not on Monday, March 16th. Samantha found it hard to fathom how it was possible that there was practically NO diet soda or ANY flavored seltzer in the super market. (I have to admit that I found this hard to explain).
Much more difficult was explaining the deeper consequences of COVID 19 and why social distancing, hand washing and using sanitizer are essential to slow the spread of the pandemic. The silver lining is that my daughter learned the meaning of the word “pandemic.” Samantha also fell in love with the expression “silver lining,” which she has now added to her repertoire of idioms and catch phrases.
After several conversations, Samantha now understands that a dearth of diet soda is the least of our problems. The stock market is crashing, businesses are closing, people are losing their jobs and can’t afford to pay rent or feed their families. Neurotypical people are shell shocked and scrambling to survive. Everyone’s lives are turned upside down in a quest to slow the spread of the virus and protect the elderly and those with underlying health issues. Imagine how much more confusing and upsetting these coronavirus consequences are for a people with autism and their families.
As if living with autism wasn’t challenging enough, now autism parents are faced with the coronavirus and the total disruption of carefully structured routines for their children. Nobody likes change, but people with autism are especially sensitive (allergic, even) to shifts in their routine. The coronavirus has totally shattered the essential structure which supports life in an autism family. For parents of young children on the spectrum, home schooling may be next to impossible. Many autism parents rely on specially trained therapists and teachers to work with their children in specific ways, which untrained moms and dad are unable to replicate. Setting up on-line lessons for these families is difficult or impossible—given the emotional fall-out from kids who are rigid and/or cognitively incapable of understanding the coronavirus pandemic.
For autistic adults, the challenges may be different from those of children on the spectrum, depending on how much and how well they are able to process information about the pandemic. (Hint: Covid19 discussions take longer, and each new restriction must be explained in small concrete pieces). My daughter was able to understand and accept the cancellation of rehearsals for all three of her theater groups, and deal with the disappointment of postponing various shows because she sees all of her friends and their families following the new rules. Samantha has also been able to rise to the challenge of online rehearsals and Facetime with friends. What has been most difficult for her is not hugging her friends or showing any physical affection.
“I’m a warm and affectionate person,” she complains. “What should I do instead of hugs?”
Samantha was not a big fan of elbow bumps, so we brainstormed some alternatives: air hugs, kisses blown from a distance of three feet, online emojis with hearts and lips.
I am very proud of her for managing her disappointment and anxiety over the disruptions in her life. I’ve reassured her that she can hug me as much as she wants. I love her hugs and will happily accept all of the ones she must withhold from others. We live too close together in a Manhattan apartment and are all healthy at the moment.
So far, so good. Instead of working out at the gym six days a week, we are taking power walks. To burn more calories and continue to watch her weight, Samantha climbs nine flights of stairs instead of riding the elevator. I’m planning for us to lift weights, do sit ups, push ups and maybe try an online workout (Ugh!) Over the weekend we will try to buy an exercise bike to share. Elisofon exercise won’t substitute for the stress relief and camaraderie I enjoy at Equinox Zumba classes, but I MUST model flexibility for my daughter.
“This is why improv you’ve learned in theater class is so important.” I explain. “You need it in life too.” See creative video: samantha handwashing
“Like when you told me I had to apply math in real life and it wasn’t good enough to just get As in school, right?” Samantha smiles knowingly.
Exactly!” I return her smile.
Silver linings can even be found in a pandemic, if you’re open to looking for them.