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Autism Awareness Week – The Spectrum and Covid

This is part of a series of blogs and stories celebrating World Autism Awareness Week.

Heather is a team leader nurse at Brandon. In this blog, Heather talks about her own autism and the impact of COVID-19 for people with sensory support needs.

HeatherThis blog would be completely different if written before 2021, as my experience of shielding has given me an insight into how it may feel for those living with high sensory support needs.

A testing year

The long Covid year of 2020 was a testing one in so many ways to every person, but for those living with autism it had both positives and negatives. Routines had to be changed, more often than people could get used to them. For those with learning disabilities this must have seemed traumatic – change is difficult at the best of times but changing the same rules repeatedly week on week, month on month, must have led to a level of confusion not experienced by others.

Sensory overload

However, shielding will have felt safe and comfortable for many, as the expectations to experience the wider community were no longer an issue. Life became a quieter, safer place… Then Christmas celebrations arrived, and things changed again, bringing with it the highly sensory activities that come with the season. For those who experience sensory overload like me, Christmas can be a nightmare of lights, sounds, tastes, excitement in others, fear inside, and a longing for things to return to normal whilst not knowing if they will.

Then the rules return in January and things go quiet again. No shopping, no lights, no festive music, no decorations. Peace within returns. We can go back to enjoying a less highly stimulating world.

Finding a balance

For me, having been furloughed due to long-Covid symptoms leaving me highly vulnerable, my fear is around leaving my safe haven and returning to a world of work. I know I have spent most of my life in a work situation, making my home a place of reduced sensory stimulation. A place of calm after the storm of work. I love my work but the sensory overload it creates has to be balanced after I return home.

The path out of lockdown

People with learning disabilities living with high sensory needs, may present with behaviours that represent the distress of returning to a highly stimulating environment, whilst the neurotypical world is rejoicing the return to their normality as we tread the path out of lockdown. There’s no doubt this is an area that we need to be mindful of as lockdown progresses.

More information

Find out more about Autism Awareness Week and how to get involved on the National Autistic Society Website.