By Vivian Croll
As I reflect on my life pre-pandemic, it all seems so long ago, as if a dream. I was newly retired, and my social calendar had to be reinvented. I established new routines. I joined a photography club and a craft group. I took fitness classes and enjoyed visits with family and friends.
Then the pandemic hit. Like everyone else, I saw my social activities come to an end. We all had to adjust to this new condition called social distancing. Visits with family and friends stopped. Many find this isolation has caused sadness and loneliness.
I have an adult son with Asperger’s. I have been reflecting on how the social isolation that he experiences is similar in a way to the social isolation we all have been experiencing. Could my observation prove to be a valid one? Could I show how our shared experiences are similar? Could our experiences with COVID bring us to a better understanding of the social isolation people with Asperger’s experience? I think there is a valuable lesson we can gain from our shared experiences.
For people with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, social distancing and isolation is their everyday reality. Asperger’s affects a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. Social skills are impaired, making face-to-face relationships very challenging. Sadly, many adults on the spectrum are like shut ins. Some choose to partake in community services for people with developmental disabilities through the March of Dimes or Service Coordination Support and Developmental Services Ontario. But others fall through the cracks and refuse some of the services that would help them socialize.
For all neurotypical people as well, it has been a challenging time during this pandemic. All age groups have been impacted by loneliness, and our mental health has been affected like never before. There is a need for belonging – video chats are no substitute for live connections. Fortunately, the Ontario government has stepped up mental-health support during COVID-19. There is ConnexOntario and BounceBack to name a few. Call 211 to find support by phone or online. There is help for everyone, including people with disabilities.
I try to see my son for his abilities rather than his disabilities. We do know that people with ASD can lead happy, productive lives. Symptoms of autism vary from person to person. We hope they will find the love and support they need to be happy. But let us not forget that people with Asperger’s will continue to struggle to overcome social distancing, isolation and loneliness even when the pandemic is over. We will all hopefully come out of social isolation. Slowly the veil will lift, and we will be free to come out of our cocoons. Vaccines are on the way! We will return to our social lives, and we will help each other and our community. Hope for everyone to be happy.
Vivian Croll is retired from The Ottawa Hospital and loves writing and photography.