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March of 2022 will be two years since the initial lockdown and quarantine due to COVID-19. During these last two years, daily life has been drastically altered in ways that no one could have imagined before this global pandemic.
- Jobs were lost or put on hold
- Employees changed careers and left big gaps in many industries when they did not return to their previous careers
- Schools switched to virtual platforms
- Students were isolated from peers
- Availability of products and services were interrupted and/or limited
- Entertainment has been interrupted and limited
- Travel has a new list of requirements and restrictions
- Restaurants lost revenue and many were unable to recover from the loss
- Holidays and family gatherings changed dramatically
- Patients in hospitals and convalescent care were unable to receive visitors
- Funerals took place months later after a loved one passed
- Our economy has suffered the effects of all of these changes
- Crime has increased dramatically
The list of changes to our lives is endless. No one has been exempt from adjusting their daily living in some way. It has not been easy to navigate this pandemic. In fact, we are just beginning to see the effects on the mental health of our children, our families, and our communities.
What are the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health?
It has been particularly difficult for the special needs population because the events of the last two years have been isolating, frustrating, irrational, scary, and to borrow the media’s favorite adjective: unprecedented.
We have all witnessed the anger, the depression, the helplessness, the hopelessness, and the confusion that has been felt in our communities, our schools, and in our families. Most things are out of our control to remedy, but we can tend to our own needs and the needs of our family, and that is where our focus should be.
The long term effects of this global pandemic remain to be seen as time progresses. Some of the damage that has been done will take years to repair or overcome. Some of the events that have taken place as a result of the pandemic can never be repaired or overcome. The loss of family members or irreversible damage to our health due to the virus or the vaccine. The division of family members and loss of friendships due to differences in perspectives. The financial devastation for those who lost their businesses, their jobs, their property, their savings, and even their marriages due to financial struggles.
What are some of the negative psychological effects of quarantine during the pandemic?
Being in quarantine was one of the most aggravating assaults on our personal freedom. Virtually overnight, our entire country went from complete freedom to fright. Shelves were emptied at the grocery store, businesses and schools were shut down, and all unnecessary services were closed. Even doctors and dentists limited their appointments to emergency appointments only. Surgeries were postponed, routine check ups were canceled, and we will never know how many people became more ill or even died because of the limited access to medical care.
Children with autism and their families were affected as well. At the beginning of the quarantine, ABA services were interrupted abruptly until concessions were made for medically necessary services. Even then, many service providers were frightened at the thought of returning to work to deliver ABA therapy. Many were given the option to wait until they felt ready to return to work.
Anxiety has been at an all time high. Children with autism are no exception to this. Children with autism have experienced all of the same consequences of the pandemic with a few additional challenges to acclimate to.
Some of the most common symptoms of autism were directly challenged without warning. Consider the child with autism who has sensory issues and how stressful it must have been to be required to wear a mask (a constricting and uncomfortable garment) in public. How stressful it must have been to struggle with mom or dad in public when the child repeatedly attempted to remove the mask. For many typically developing children wearing a mask was difficult enough. For some children with autism, it was a cruel assault to their senses, in other words, torture.
Imagine the panic and the fear that a child with autism might feel seeing the empty shelves at the store, hearing their parents worry and stress, and even argue over what to do.
How were children with autism perceiving all of the riots and chaos on television or social media? Just try to imagine being a child- or a child with autism- and trying to make sense of the yelling, the hate, the destruction of our cities, and the social division.
Whatever your perception of the world was before the pandemic- it is undoubtedly altered these two years later. Imagine how your child’s perception has been altered during these last two years. Did they feel safe and happy two years ago? How do they feel now?
How can I support my child with autism during the pandemic?
If your child has struggled through this season of uncertainty, you might be feeling helpless to do anything that will help to ease their anxieties.
However, if there is any advantage that children with autism sometimes have over their typical peers- it is this: depending on the severity of their autism, your child could be so preoccupied with their own thoughts and their own world that all of this stress has completely escaped their attention. In addition, many children with autism prefer to be alone, and the quarantine may have been a welcome break from hectic school schedules and crowds of people in various settings.
Children who have avoided most of the details associated with the Covid-19 outbreak are to be envied. It would be lovely to think about, talk about, hear about, and deal with life without a moment of thought given to Covid-19. Remember those days?
But, if your child has not been able to escape the anxiety and negativity of this season, there are some ways to help them to understand what is going on, and there are ways to help them feel safe and protected.
What can we do as parents of children with autism to help them through the isolation and quarantine?
Anxiety is one of the most prevalent and debilitating disorders to live with. Children diagnosed with autism frequently struggle with anxiety. Here are some things that you can do to help your child and these recommendations work for everyone in the family as well.
Move your body. Don’t sit for long periods of time. Find an activity that gets your heart beating, your oxygen flowing, and your breathing moving faster. Nothing elevates happy hormones and makes us feel better than good exercise.
Eat a well balanced diet
Eat whole foods. Avoid junk food that leaves you feeling unsatisfied and makes you sluggish and unhealthy. Cook meals at home together and enjoy the benefits of good, healthy meals.
Get sufficient sleep
Sleep is important. Good sleep is healthy for the mind, the body, and the soul and helps to reduce negative moods and depression.
Take a break from the usual and enjoy a mental vacation by reading some great fantasy fiction or humor.
Have a family game night. Challenge each other, laugh, and enjoy the evening with family.
Sunshine facilitates vitamin D production which helps to regulate body systems that keep you healthy and happy.
Enjoy the satisfaction of planting, tending to and enjoying the final product of your labor in the garden.
Find a new hobby
Enjoy an activity on your bucket list. Always wanted to be a photographer? Use a camera phone or buy an inexpensive camera to take some pictures and create photo albums or post pics online.
Find the good in everything. Roll right over the negativity and enjoy each day for what it has to offer.
Lessen the focus on restrictions
Don’t lament over the hand washing, the masks, the limited access to restaurants and entertainment. Instead, make little of these requirements and redirect the focus to more positive things.
There’s a lot you can do from home, but sometimes outside help is needed, and there’s no shame in asking for it! Be sure to get in contact with a good ABA provider in your area, and get the support you need in order to support your child.
Circle Care Services in New Jersey has been there for countless families during this global pandemic. We are ready to help you!