Standing on the sidelines of history: an Autistic’s views on coronavirus 

I am in a rehabilitation hospital and have been for six weeks. The COVID19 crisis basically started in earnest  at a similar time as I came here. I have been somewhat insulated against the worst of things and feel like I am on the sidelines to history as it lurches from one terror to another. At first it seemed unreal, like a movie that everyone was watching. Then things started to affect us here. Last week one of the doctors gave a stern talk to patients and staff about the impact of the virus. We were urged to wash our hands for as long as it took us to sing happy birthday twice (to yourself or out loud depending on preference). Hand sanitiser turned up in every room. Then visitor numbers were limited and visitors dissuaded from entering the ward – instead patients were told to meet them outside. Today the cafe removed all its chairs and tape was stuck to the floor with lines at 1.5 meter intervals. We can get a coffee but it needs to be take away. Therapeutic groups will be cancelled from next week. 

The news links us to the world but I struggle to watch it. Sometimes I will click on an article on my phone’s news feed and then spend the next hour or five terrified for the future of the world. It is strangely surreal being in a bubble of almost normalcy while people are fighting in supermarkets for toilet paper and canned goods. I haven’t been in a supermarket, haven’t seen empty shelves or aggression since I came here in February. 

I saw an item on the TV news about the virus in Spain. I was horrified to see homeless people who were the only people on the streets with a curfew in place for everyone else. How would they survive with all the cafes and restaurants closed and nobody giving them change? We are indeed living in terrible times. Each country has taken a slightly different approach to addressing the virus. I don’t know which is the most – or least – effective. It is uncharted waters. How long will it go on for? Will someone develop a vaccine or do we just have to keep going until the virus runs its course, with however many deaths that will entail?

There have been a few direct impacts for COVID19 on my life. The first relates to property. I had planned to sell Whimsy Manor shortly after being discharged from the hospital. I just received an email from my agent advising that due to the current situation it will not be advisable – or possible – to put it on the market. The other direct impacts have been my women’s group closing and the cancellation or postponement of several of my speaking gigs. I don’t know how I feel about this. I feel disappointed to miss doling the things I enjoy and feel are worthwhile but then I wouldn’t want to speak at an event where people contracted the virus either.

I see people on social media posting about being in quarantine or self-isolation and I feel distant. I am not in quarantine myself and can only imagine what it must be like. I don’t like the idea of being confined to home for weeks and I can only imagine how it would be for families. For autistic people it would be so disruptive to routines to be quarantined. I’m glad that there are social stories about COVID19 and other resources but it must be so stressful being confined at home. 

I worry about the economy and particularly small businesses. Everything seems to be closed or on reduced hours. People are surely losing their jobs or losing shifts. Then economic impact of COVID19 is horrific both on a grand scale but also for individuals. I think I am safe being a public servant but I have no way of knowing where things will head with the economy. My secure job may become less secure – who knows? I think the ‘who knows’ response is the scary edge of the crisis. We are all uncertain about a large range of things and things which are important to our welfare and sense of safety. As an autistic person I hate uncertainty yet I cannot avoid it and there is nothing I can do to make things less uncertain.

I do feel like I am looking at the crisis from outside at the moment, despite it having some direct impacts on me. Things could get more ‘real’ though. The hospital I am in may need to be repurposed or the clinicians here might need my bed sooner than expected due to pressure on other hospitals. I don’t know. The key issue of this crisis is the many unknown factors. It is scary times. I think it’s important to acknowledge that and to acknowledge that we need one another more than ever. I am relieved that we have the internet as it makes social distancing and self-isolation less traumatic and enables us to connect with one another.   

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3 thoughts on “Standing on the sidelines of history: an Autistic’s views on coronavirus 

  1. I’ve been disabled almost 20 years with Fibromyalgia and I’m an introvert by nature, the lockdown here in California doesn’t change much for me.

    But, my 11 year autistic grandson’s school close on March 13. It’s been difficult for him. I’m not sure if he’s heard anything about the virus, we just tell him he’s on Spring Break when he says “No school tomorrow”, which is his way of asking if he has school.
    I do think he is enjoying the lack of schoolwork though.😉


  2. The uncertainty of everything is the hardest part to cope with. Things change daily, sometimes more often. States are closing borders. Three days ago I was told by someone who would know that this was not legally possible.

    The mass panic, showing up in things like not being able to buy tissues and milk, is the worst part. People no longer behave predictably.

    Stay where you are if you can, Yenn, it’s a frightening world right now.

    Liked by 2 people

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