Autism in the time of Corona

Nothing will ever be the same again. That’s the sentiment I see and hear everywhere. During the lock-down in Bangalore, my family and I continued indoors without any difficulty when it came to supplies. We counted ourselves lucky but the plight of those who were less fortunate tugged at our hearts and spirits. The news poured out a relentless deluge of bad news followed by terrible news. Only deaths and more deaths were recounted. Expectations of doom, of never surviving the economic crisis, of never going back to the lives that we thought were normal - these were in evidence everywhere. Is it any wonder then that collective anxiety for the future set in?

No as a ‘normal’ adult, I battle anxiety routinely. The point is I recognize it and try to stem its relentless pressure. I can go for a walk or meditate and ground myself. But what about my son and those like him? He has Autism. His brain is wired to deal with patterns. Routine is what defines his life. Structure is the basis of his existence. Imagine being like that and not having enough comprehension to understand what the Corona virus situation is all about. Imagine having nothing to hold on to and no sense of control - remember your anchor is structure and routine - there’s nothing definite about life during Corona times. Imagine not being able to hug your teacher whom you miss terribly or see your friends who are the only ones that make you feel like you belong. Can you imagine what that’s like? The spiralling into despair that you cannot put into words because while you are an empath and feel deeply, you are also shorn of words?

This then, is what my son is going through. I watch him helplessly. All his life I have hoped and prayed for the power to take upon me at least a fraction of his pain. But I can’t do that. He has come into this world as a different being. And that’s how he will depart it. Years ago when my friend and I started a school for children with Autism, it was with a vision. That vision grows stronger in our minds everyday. And now, more than ever, I believe only that vision can provide a solution to keeping our children on the spectrum happy and fulfilled.

All the children in our school like coming there. They like being with friends. They aren’t judged. They aren’t ridiculed. Their strengths are lauded. They are celebrated. Now think of a community like that. A community where they could live (with some help), learn skills, have music and arts in their lives, run a little restaurant, have their own studios. These youngsters would then know less anxiety, more acceptance, more peace. I promised my son that one day this would happen so when he’s especially anxious, like late last night when he asked me a million times when he could go to school and see his friends, he has hope to cling on to. Now he asks about the ‘Big School’ where they can all stay together and I promise “Soon”. And I tell myself that this too is possible - this safe haven for children who have nothing else to dream about.

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