The Corona Virus and COVID-19: tips and tricks on how to survive this crisis as an autistic person

In a matter of days, life as we knew it in Austria has changed. The news cycle is evolving by the minute. New governmental rules are in place that an impact on our daily lives. To make sure the curve of Covid-19 infections is flattened as much as possible, it’s likely that similar measures will be taken in Germany as well. In this text I will focus on what is currently happening in Austria.

Many people are scared and worried about what is happening and have a hard time dealing with it. And even though people like to crack jokes about it – especially autistics can have a particularly hard time dealing with this new situation. All these changes are scary and can consume a lot of energy. The information overload and many of the instructions are vague and spark new questions:

Am I allowed to meet another person for a walk, if this person is not living with me? Am I allowed to go for a jog? Are dog parks still open to the public? Is someone allowed to drop by my apartment if I need help? When is my need of help valid? Which appointments do I have to cancel and which do I have to take? And who on earth is going to answer all my other questions?

The familiar daily routine, which is important to many autistic people, is disturbed due to these governmental rules. This new situation catches many off-guard and causes uncertainties.

What can you do to create a new kind of security in this new daily life?

Create structure
If you’re already working from home or can still go to work, a part of your day is already structured. If you are new to working from home, it can be helpful to get up at your usual time and start your day as if you were still going to work. Sit down at your desk at the time you would sit down in the office and start your work.

If you’re on leave of absence, on sick-leave, on holidays or not working at all, these steps don’t apply to you. You should try to plan your day nonetheless. 

Write lists and plan activities you want to do during the day. A list is a simple, yet hugely effective, universal tool. When do you get up? When do you have breakfast? Plan to finally finish this one book, that movie or this show. Take time to write letters or emails. 

Make sure to schedule walks or strolls around your neighborhood. Walking around is still allowed as long as you do it by yourself or with people you are living with. For me it’s kind of hard to go for a walk without a plan. But I use helpful apps like Google Maps to plan routes and then just follow them. 

Plan what you want to eat and cook. Now it’s time to look up those great recipes that you always wanted to try. Or you could cook something that you loved to eat when you were a child. When you “frame” your day, you literally create something to hold onto. 

If your’re having a hard time creating structures by yourself, ask for help. There will always be people who are more than happy to help you during these times. 

Social contacts
Autistics are just as sociable or unsociable as other people, but the typical difficulties at social interactions make it even harder for us to fulfill our social needs during these times. Right now it’s not possible to casually meet up with people, run errands together or work out in groups. All this may feed the anxiety of being lonely. 

That’s why you should meet up with friends or family digitally, either on video calls or FaceTime or, if that’s not possible, just talk on the good old phone. You can have digital lunch or coffee dates, watch movies and while doing so, message each other. Apps like Netflix Party let you watch movies together. There are a lot of great multiplayer games that will keep you connected. If all things fail, you can also read to one another. You can still do many of the things you usually do if you just improvise on a digital level.

News
The constant flood of news and press conferences can be burdensome. If these things are too much for you, it can be helpful to create structures for this area as well. 

Set boundaries. Maybe only check the news once a day to get an overview on what’s currently going down. Or just watch the evening news. Plan your consumption of news in a way that you won’t get overwhelmed.

Shopping / running errands
I know many autistic people that hate going shopping. I myself dislike shopping for groceries. Even though there are constraints, you are still able to order groceries and other things online and have them delivered. The delivery people are instructed to leave them at your door so neither of you have to get too close to one another. If supermarkets overwhelm you or make you feel unsafe, don’t go there. A few restaurants still offer delivery services and so you can even order food on days that you don’t feel like cooking. Their delivery system is just like when you order groceries – without any direct contact.

Ask questions
For many autistics it’s calming to have as much information as possible. But this current situation is new to all of us and there are still many areas where we don’t know what is going to happen. 

Make sure to check the official website of your government. There you’ll find the most important information and phone numbers concerning the covid pandemia. 

Health ministries, embassies, job centres and economics ministries will also offer information regarding this topic.

Self care
I know, it might be an overused word, but during difficult times it’s especially important to keep an eye on yourself and your mental health. Many therapists offer to talk to their patients in secure video chats, so maybe this could be an option for you as well?

Actively plan things that are good for you. This can be watching your favorite movie or show, taking a nap or cooking one of your favorite dishes. Would a weighted blanket help? Maybe you want to take a long and soothing bath, paint your nails or finally finish this one video game? I will definitely spend a lot of time playing Zelda on my SNES. 

Don’t forget: it’s normal to be worried or scared. It’s also okay to feel overwhelmed by this new situation, because change can be exhausting.  

Maybe it is also helpful to create your personal outlet whenever the chaos threatens to consume you. Special interest and stimming can be very helpful. Make sure you immerse yourself fully.

If you or other people you struggle with their mental health, make sure to use the many online contacts that you can get in touch with accessible via email or chat.

Hygiene
The hygiene rules to make sure Covid19 doesn’t spread are simple:

  • Make sure you wash your hands often and thoroughly 
  • Avoid physical contact 
  • Limit your social interactions and contact
  • Make sure you also regularly disinfect your phone

“Often” is vague, so what does it mean? It makes sense to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap after having done the following things: 

  • been outside
  • having had contact with other people
  • handled orders, packages or mail
  • stored groceries or other shopping items
  • touched cash (if you can, make sure to pay with a credit card or contactless via Apple Pay, etc.)

At Wash Your Lyrics you are able to generate an instruction on how to wash your hands with the help of your favorite song. Also don’t forget to lotion your hands so they don’t turn red and chapped.

Autistics with need of more care and autistic children may have some difficulties with these stricter regiments. Sanitizers have an intense smell and can feel weird and strange on the skin. Having to wash hands more frequently can also destroy a familiar routine and soaps can be perceived as unpleasant. 

A solution to this problem can also be a very creative one. How about making your own soap, maybe with scents that the autistic person or autistic child likes or even without scent at all? Maybe there already is a favorite soap and you just have to find a new hand washing rhythm? Parents of autistic children are usually very skilled in finding alternatives and workarounds and I would be very thankful if you would share them with us.

I would be happy to read how you are doing during these times and what you are doing to make sure you’re alright. I will continue to update you on my own progress on Twitter, where I’m already sharing my thoughts on this situation and how I personally deal with it all.

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