COVID-19 Challenges to Autism (ASD) for Adults – Occupational Therapists Recomendations

Introduction

As the omicron variant is on the rise in the US, reports of it affecting the younger population are a concern. Adults with ASD continue to face difficulties in managing their day-to-day life due to factors such as economic instability, job security, mental health, physical health, and overall uncertainty. Here are some ways you can prepare for, manage, or prevent these factors from negatively affecting your life during this pandemic.

Economic Instability

The unprecedented times we live in can cause overall economic instability. This economic instability may contribute to increased vulnerability due to difficulties with adjusting to the economic climate – job changes, job loss, layoffs, increased inflation, and other uncertain circumstances. Unforeseen increases in personal costs may include higher utility costs due to staying at home.

  • Reduce unnecessary monthly costs and subscriptions. Avoid getting deeper into debt.
  • Save or contribute to an emergency fund.
  • If considering divorce, know that marriage contributes to financial security. According to research, women stand more to lose from a divorce than men.[1]Leopold T. (2018). Gender Differences in the Consequences of Divorce: A Study of Multiple Outcomes. Demography, 55(3), 769–797. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0667-6
  • Consider government or local community programs that may aid with finances directly or indirectly (through insurance, supplies, equipment, education, etc.).
  • Find deals online or use couponing strategies with websites such as CamelCamelCamel or Ebates/Rakuten.

Job Security

Nothing is guaranteed when you work for an employer. This has never been more true during the pandemic. While there is always a job out there, it may not provide the same wage or benefits as your current one. On the flip side, another job may be better and provide you with a better situation than your current one. This all depends on your current situation. However, don’t be afraid to ask for a raise at work. If searching for a new job, definitely prepare and rehearse for how to negotiate your rate. There are many helpful posts and videos on the Internet on how to do this. For teenagers and adults in the workforce, some jobs are more vulnerable than others.

  • Be prepared to provide financial support for children with ASD who lose their jobs.
  • Negotiate and ask for a raise when and if appropriate.
  • Reduce spending and avoid debt (see above).
  • Do not be afraid to seek governmental assistance during these difficult financial times.
  • Find alternative and creative ways to make extra money on the side with a side-hustle.

School Changes

Students and parents with children who go to school have been managing the uncertain educational climate through the pandemic since 2019. With omicron on the rise and children contracting COVID-19, schools may fluctuate between re-opening and re-closing. Telehealth is likely here to stay if case rates increase again. This may re-contribute to disrupted routines in both education and higher education. For higher education, it may be best to choose an online program to avoid disruption with going to in-person classes. People with ASD face barriers to online learning due to its delivery method, new expectations, technical difficulties or limitations such as slow internet speed, and more. Anticipating these issues and being patient are key to changing to distance learning.

For both students and parents, they should be prepared to test for COVID-19, school closures, cancellations of events, and also have a plan for what to do if a student or parent contracted COVID-19. This is because school is a family-centered occupation that affects both the student and parents when it comes to logistics, scheduling, childcare, and more.

  • Prepare for closures and cancellations with childcare.
  • Find alternative and productive or leisurely occupations to occupy the time for personal growth and development.
  • Opt for distant learning if possible.
  • Use local resources to support direct or afterschool learning.
  • Find helpful support through family and friends who have children in school.
  • Stay up to date on individualized education plans (IEPS) with educators and therapists.
  • Continue to consult and communicate with educators to find productive and practical ways to engage students in learning.
  • Ask for and seek out accommodations and modifications.

Mental Health

The question used to be for the pandemic, “when is it going to end?”. This question can contribute to continued stress, uncertainty, and other negative mental health symptoms. The good news is that we have many tools to cope with this pandemic such as vaccinations, research, and experience. The topic of vaccination is divisive, but the best advice is to do your own research. Everyone from children to healthcare workers to the elderly are facing mental health problems with the pandemic. People with ASD are vulnerable to mental health problems as well, especially during the pandemic.

  • Avoid isolation and find alternative ways to communicate and maintain social contact, e.g., Zoom, texting, and the old phone call.
  • Avoid self-blame and find acceptance in your situation.
  • Communicate with family members and partners about your feelings, difficulties, and struggles and find ways to make each other all happy.
  • Continue to devote time to self-care no matter how hard. If you are a single-parent, practice self-care when children take naps, go to school, or at bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol, drugs, or an unhealthy diet.
  • Avoid getting into debates, e.g, vaccinations. People are going to behave the way they want and you cannot change what you cannot control, e.g., the behaviors of others.
  • Consult with or find help through self-help books, therapists, doctors, or even the Internet, but do your own research.
  • Communities with members (locally or online) who have autism are a great way to find methods to cope with this pandemic.
  • Avoid stressors such as social media, news, or interacting with those who may negatively affect your mental health. This may include taking more extreme measures, even for family members.
  • Set firm boundaries and develop the confidence to stand by them.
  • Find or continue your favorite hobbies.
  • If you are finding that you are depressed, seek help and consider medications, therapy, alternative interventions, and more.

Know that we are all in this together!

References

References
1 Leopold T. (2018). Gender Differences in the Consequences of Divorce: A Study of Multiple Outcomes. Demography, 55(3), 769–797. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0667-6
Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, culture, sociology, and philosophy. Consider supporting my continued free content by sending a tip.