Since the government announced the abrupt lockdown on March 23rd, we are now into the 8th week.
There have been many reports on how people are coping with the lockdown, but there is also a section of our communities that is not mentioned enough, that have been affected too. It is people living with autism and learning disabilities.
Uniquely Me & U is a voluntary run group for adults with disabilities. A small group where our members feel safe and confident to socialise with one another each week.
As Easter was approaching. Members were talking about what Easter meant to them. What chocolate eggs they liked to eat? And they were looking forward to receiving their eggs, as they did in the past years.
It was an event in the year they enjoyed. Painting pictures, interacting as a group, and talking about what they were doing over the Easter break.
It was all PREPARATION to help them acknowledge the event, but more importantly, that our group would not be meeting for 2 weeks. This helped them to accept the break in their own way.
Parents/carers/families can understand how routine is very important to people with autism and learning disabilities. Any changes must be done gradually.
On March 23rd 2020, there was no preparation. Our groups had to stop.
My concern was the effect it would have on our members. We were not able to finish for Easter in our usual way. No Easter eggs, not being able to bye to each other. All these things which are very important to our members, who have built up their friendships with one another over the years.
The following weeks have proven very difficult for our members, as parents/cares have kept in touch by phone/texts. Trying to find the best ways of explaining why our is closed. Their understanding of the Coronavirus being very limited and difficult to relate to.
I would like to mention how it has affected my son over the weeks, and has created further problems that will need to be worked on in the weeks, months ahead.
At first he was very withdrawn in himself. Although, he had lots to do in the garden. It was a distraction. He wasn’t his usual self. He kept going to the calendar and wanting to know when our group was meeting again? I couldn’t give him the answer he wanted, so became frustrated.
I tried to encourage him to do art on the same day as the group, to keep the routine. After a couple of weeks he chose to try it. Now, we still carry on. He is not showing as much interest in listening to his music.
The lockdown has proven to me how important the social side is to our members. They like the activities of art and music, but it is being part of a group. Their friends they know, and are missing each other. Uniquely Me & U is a safe and happy environment they enjoy going to.
Over the weeks my son and I have had to go shopping. He has to get used to all the rules of social distancing. This in itself has created more problems for him. He has become very stressed if anyone comes to near him. He has to take antiseptic wipes to clean a trolley before he will use it. These are all good precautions, but is escalating into an obsession with cleanliness and germs, as he relates to it as.
At home he is worried about germs, and washing his hands more than needed.
Not eating foods he thinks looks ‘off’, that might have germs.
He keeps saying ‘no shaking hands with people, germs’.
These are issues that will continue to cause him stress in the future.
Autistic people struggle with facial and contact issues. Over time at our group, members have been greeting each other with a handshake or brief hug. This was an important step forward in their social skills. Now, when we go back to meeting at the group, there will be no contact and will have to say apart from one another. This is going to be difficult for them to understand.
There are many other issues that will show up in time.
With the news concentrating on other issues like schools, hospitals, care homes. I feel this section of the community needs to be considered too. The mental health problems it is causing to vulnerable people who already struggle on a daily basis with normal life, and now having to come to terms with this ‘new normal’. I feel needs highlighting too.
I decided to write to the Prime Minister to ask him when groups like Uniquely Me & U can return? I pointed out how the social side was very important to our members. He hadn’t mentioned them in his news reports.
I await his reply.