OPINION: Coping with the pandemic while on the spectrum


Elle Love

“Even if I can see people on the Zoom call meeting, just the lack of people’s overall presence around me feels mind numbing.” Photo courtesy of Pexels.

As social interactions have been limited resulting in remote learning, this semester has been the most difficult I’ve encountered. As someone who was born with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I’m blessed with certain abilities. There are also plenty of challenges that I have to navigate at a slower pace than others. This pandemic became a huge adversary in the way of my final goal: to graduate next semester and finish my education.

The sheer frustration and fatigue that came with completing the majority of my classwork in front of a screen most of the time was not my only challenge.

I’m used to being a homebody. However, the lack of in-person social interactions and the difficulty of learning classwork to carry onto my next career created a sense of existential dread that distracted me in my academic performance.

Self-isolation and disruption of routine are tough for anyone, but may emotionally upend someone with an autism spectrum disorder, said Dr. Adrien Eshraghi, a professor and director of the University of Miami Hearing Research and Communication Disorders Laboratory in a WebMD Article.

Although there are perks to going to school remotely, including lessening the exposure to COVID-19 and catching more Z’s in the morning, it doesn’t beat coming to class and having interpersonal communication with my professors and classmates.

It has also changed the way I learn material in class. My auditory-processing issues makes it harder to process or even take notes in lectures until I go back on the recorded Zoom lectures my professors post on Canvas.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is when your brain doesn’t “hear” sounds in the usual way. Because I attend school online, the increasing background noises from the T.V. or my parents having a conversation in an adjacent room distracts me from completing my assignments. My focus competes with the noises in the background, completely surrendering myself from school.

There are assumptions that autistic people are more adept at dealing with self-isolation than neurotypical people, including a quote from one participant in a study by Spectrum News, telling researchers, “We self-isolate; we do that all our lives … autistic people are ready.”

However, the findings in the study found that the experiences during the pandemic were overwhelmingly negative, with in-depth interviews from 35 autistic adults, 80 parents of autistic children – 35 of the parents are autistic themselves – and 16 young autistic people, according to the Spectrum News study.

“Participants also reported how stressful it is to see their everyday routines ‘completely messed up’ and they were deeply troubled by the ever-present uncertainty. Autistic adults and young people also told us they missed seeing their friends,” the study reported.

Researchers in the study admit that these findings contrast against the normative views of autistic people including how they don’t want friends, have little social motivation and prefer a life of self-isolation.

As for the social challenges from remote learning, I don’t get to see many friendly faces in the classroom. Even if I can see people on the Zoom call meeting, just the lack of people’s overall presence around me feels mind numbing.

Many participants in the study longed for physical, embodied, face-to-face interactions and said Zoom, Facetime and Discord couldn’t fill the void.

“My friends, I really want to see them. I want to see my friends. In person,” said one participant in the study.

However, as much as I miss these interactions, social distancing to protect my friends and peers is more important. And with the remote learning challenges that are normally nerve-wracking for non-autistic students, it’s made me realize that there should be some sort of support or accommodations for not only autistic students but adults, as well.

For many of us, especially on the spectrum, these drastic changes may affect most of our routines, but we can pick and choose which ones we are able to do and which ones we need to adapt. We can also create new routines to keep our minds occupied and away from the many stressors we’re encountering currently.

While navigating through this year with the new challenges that arise from this pandemic and more, I can say that I’m thankful that I’m motivated to do what I can to adjust to these new times.