Autism in the Time of Corona

By Kindra Sterling | Published on October 21, 2020 | 10 Minute Read

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been devastating for special needs families. Much needed therapy stopped, schools closed and most importantly, the routines that our kids invariably depended on were immediately disrupted. I was so worried when the pandemic hit because the disruption triggered one of the worst words in my autism world . . . regression. The loss of skills, words, focus. The resurgence of irritability, meltdowns, and behaviors. When your child regresses, in a way, the family regresses. You go back to the constant high alert status in your nervous system that will not let you rest and causes an ongoing elevated level of stress.

My son has been at home during the pandemic and at first there was a sense of confusion. I could see the quizzical look on his face when we got up in the morning and did not go anywhere. When it was time to study and we sat down with the worksheets and flashcards, he would scribble on the pages, ball them up and throw them on the floor. It would take hours to get a couple of pages done. In his mind, things are very concrete. These pages are for school, not for home. We pushed through and after a while, he was able to complete the work.

After six months of summer and virtual school, it is much better. We still have our ups and downs and there are some days when he refuses to do schoolwork, but there is a difference. The stress is gone. We work to make sure he accomplishes something academic each day and realize that there are so many other ways to measure progress.

"I will always remember the summer of 2020, when COVID-19 came to our town and made us slow down enough to see some beautiful things that we wouldn’t have otherwise."

Our family quarantined together, so in addition to his sister, there were grandparents and cousins. I watched him blossom over the summer. He is showing more of his personality and has become so much more playful. He loves to surprise tackle people on the couch and just laughs at his little sneak attack. That laugh is so contagious that you cannot help but laugh too. I think I’ve got a little prankster on my hands and I cannot wait to see more of him.

He became more cooperative with completing tasks and doing simple things like handing over the remote control. This is a big deal because electronics are his superpower and his kryptonite. Giving them up is not easy for him. To see so much progress in this area showed me that he is gaining more control over his emotions and that he is thinking beyond the present moment. He is understanding that he may have to give it up now, but he can have it again later. This is huge.

One of the best moments was watching as he doggie paddled for the first time. All the kids were playing in the pool and he was walking around in the shallow end. He crouched down and slowly pulled up his feet. The look of surprise on his face when he realized the life jacket was helping him float was priceless. He began to kick his feet and move his arms and the next thing you know he was moving across the pool! This made up for all the unproductive swimming lessons over the past 4 years. Maybe he just wanted to do it on his own. Maybe he needed to see his sister and cousins doing it instead of an adult telling him what to do. Only he knows.

Eventually we will be able to go back to school and therapy to work on some of the more functional things that have taken a backseat. And while I am looking forward to this pandemic being over, I must admit we’ve had some good times during this quarantine. I will always remember the summer of 2020, when COVID-19 came to our town and made us slow down enough to see some beautiful things that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

About the Author

Kindra Sterling

Kindra Sterling is a mother of two and has been in the autism community since her son’s diagnosis in 2009. She is a graduate of Clemson University and has worked with children in public school special education programs. Her mission is to assist families in navigating the autism lifestyle with facts, hope, and confidence one step at a time.

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