We keep hearing that when states “open up” we’ll be in a “new normal.” This normal probably involves social distancing, but what things will actually look like, what the rules are and whether people follow or oppose rules will vary city to city as well as state to state. Everything from everyday behavior to work possibilities will differ. This may sound bleak, but I have positive ideas at the end, so make it through or skip to the end. The message of this blog is that there are many challenges you probably already realize, but there are ways to get through.
Entering this “new normal” is where the challenge to neurodivergent people might come in. Staying at home, some neurodivergent people have found aspects of social distancing to be a relief because social pressures are generally alleviated and they can work or pursue interests at home without distractions or pressures. (This is true of some neurotypicals as well.) For many accustomed to being alone, “lock down” or stay at home orders haven’t been a problem.
However, when we are invited to step outside our doors or told to return to work, life will not be what we left behind. We don’t know what to expect, and we don’t know the rules and even how to define the threat (or lack thereof) in our daily lives. Autistic people (and those with broader spectrum traits) tend to be black and white thinkers and need clarity. Most rely on having clear expectations to navigate the world successfully.
Unfortunately, the one thing totally missing in this during this period is any kind of certainty. We don’t even know if we can call this time post-COVID19. Is it mid-COVID19? An understanding so basic as the parameters that will influence our lives is unclear. Different people are defining their life situations differently and abiding by different rules of behavior. These rule of behavior seem to change frequently. What people think is wise depends on who they listen to, and unlike the neurodivergent who prefer logic, many ignore basic wisdom.
In the context of this ambiguity, will the activities that we looked forward to still be there? This is especially important for the neurodivergent, both because they have difficulty with change and because they undoubtedly had to work much harder than others to find opportunities for themselves. Many are finding that opportunities they struggled to reach no longer exist – for example, some internships are cancelled even though some businesses are “open.” Unfortunately, with the loss of revenue due to closings, jobs that were hard to come by might no longer exist. With millions unemployed, the competition to be the first rehired is tight.
Students also face a changed world. For those whose interests translate well into remote learning and zoom classrooms, this might be less of a barrier than for those whose training requires hands on work in close quarters- training to be a biochemist, or even a doctor. What will classrooms and laboratories look like? What if one was training in a hands-on profession? Can those who were learning to drive even take a driving test?
The rules of “coming out” vary, and so will etiquette. Wearing a mask and social distancing of 6 feet is a clear direction, but what does one do when other people don’t observe the distance or are maskless? For the neurodivergent, behavior that violates rules for everyone’s safety would not make sense. Rule breaking is usually upsetting to NDs, and they tend to be truthful, which could affect how they respond to others’ risk taking behavior. Does one speak up, back off, report them? For the neurodivergent who speak the truth, they might give blunt feedback if they feel others are endangering their lives. Some without masks might react with tolerance; others go so far as violence.
Will workplaces demand that we return if we’re not comfortable or if we feel that adequate safeguards aren’t in place? It’s become clear that the federal government wants states to resume their economies, and many states may give people a choice between working and being unable to collect unemployment. Unfortunately, many who were neurodivergent were underemployed in these lower level jobs.
Will states that are strapped for money cut benefits that many depend on? Again sadly, many neurodivergent people face challenges getting any help, even the help due them. Will there be economic stability, to the extent that the neurodivergent felt economically stable before?
Depending on our interests, will activities that we enjoyed be available? And significantly, for those who live at home, the entire family will experience these stressors. Will those at home understand if neurodivergent family members are struggling, or will there be irritability at having more problems when they are so stressed themselves?
This all sounds very bleak, but the neurodivergent can live through tough times. It will take reaching out and self-advocating as clearly as possible. It may involve finding allies who help with advocacy, perhaps as a group effort. Neurodivergent people are 1 in 54, are usually citizens and can register to vote if they haven’t already, and vote. Vote for those who support your needs.
With all the confusion and likelihood of distress, this is a good time for neurodivergents to reflect on those practices that work best for dealing with difficult feelings. Did sensory tools work? Did music or your activity of interest help refocus your mind?
Positive psychology has much to teach all of us.
- If one is stuck on negative thoughts, a pattern interrupt, whether breathing, walking outside or changing activities can help. Substitute thoughts of helplessness or frustration with thoughts of what ever is working well, whether it’s having loved ones around or even simple things. A thought like, “I can make it through this, so many are in the same boat” is honest.
- While many neurodivergents resist this, gratitude helps. Is anyone or anything positive? Take a moment to be grateful, even writing down a single gratitude each day. I’m grateful that I have the chance to write this, and that I have my coffee to help.
- It’s time for that meditation practice I keep recommending. Meditation is scientifically proven to actually make the brain more self resilient. Headspace and Calm are good apps, there are thousands online. Apps for children are good, like Wellbeyond. Mindfulness techniques can bring you back from worry about the future to the present.
- Make a list of things that have interested you. Everything is online, whether through MOOCs (massive open online courses) from almost every university or through youtube, zoom classes and meetings or other online offerings. You can do everything from developing your creative art to touring museums and national parks. This can be a time to grow.
- Be a problem solver rather than a complainer. Reframe difficulties as problems to be solved, and explore logical alternatives. Look outward for resources. There are places to find food and there are opportunities to be helpful. Neurodivergent people are often strong proponents for social justice. If you can’t work in the community to help, write letters to your Congressmen and women and to Senators.
Yes, with help the neurodivergent (and neurotypicals) can make it through. It may be challenging for the neurodivergent who are usually last in line, but this is the time to turn to others online for support. Join a Facebook group, or an online support group through AANE.org to find out how others are coping. Read websites for the neurodivergent, like NeuroClastic.com and find many others that will be dealing with similar issues. Neurodiversity has many strengths; discover yours and use them.