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Coronovirus - advice for autistic peopleWhilst the current situation is extremely worrying for everyone, for those of us who are autistic the daily flood of negative information can seem overwhelming with little chance of respite. Below are a few things that I, and other autistic people I know, have found useful from the point of view of managing anxiety:
Regularly clean your mind as well as your hands!
Allow more time than usual for things that induce a ‘flow state’ i.e. a mindful state in which, after a time, you become totally focused on the activity or object to the exclusion of intrusive thoughts and worries. This is as important for you as regular handwashing and all the other infection controls that are currently being suggested. It is not selfish or indulgent.
Flap as well as wash your hands!
Stimming (engaging in self-stimulation) is essential for releasing and relieving stress. Of course it is also a great way to express pleasure or excitement and definitely much safer than some more mainstream habits which definitely do damage your health. Whatever form it takes and providing it is not harmful or unhygienic, this is another behaviour that is essential to your wellbeing.
Verbal stims are your mantras
Verbal stims can be snatches of songs, dialogue from a favourite film, series or play, or simply sounds or words that, when repeated, bring reassurance or pleasure. They are your mantras and repetition of them can be very useful in overriding chains of racing negative thoughts especially if you wake up in the middle of the night.
Consume a balanced diet of quality news
It is important to stay informed but try and stick to important bulletins and announcements whilst reducing the amount of time you spend listening to current affairs programmes. Exposing yourself to relentlessly gloomy coverage and speculation may simply result in paralysing anxiety.
Whether it be print, TV or radio, or an online source, get your information from a quality media outlet with an element of fact checking. As autistic people we have a gift for digging very deeply into subjects that fascinate or scare us. The former can make us experts, but the latter can sometimes lead to some dark places where it is difficult to separate fact from fake.
Similarly, be aware that, attractive though they may seem, many wild online conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus have an underlying agenda to spread fear, hatred and division at a time when people are feeling vulnerable and solidarity and unity are what is desperately needed. Many are also plain dumb e.g. Heard the one about a bat that flew into a soup cauldron somewhere in Asia? Grateful diners eagerly tucked in and bingo, coronavirus! No!
Set an alarm on your phone to encourage you to stop consuming news at a specified time and then spend time ‘washing away the worry’ by engaging in a relaxing but absorbing activity (see above) This is especially important before bed.
Help to get things back in perspective by being in regular phone or online contact with people who understand and accept you or checking out some well administered autistic forums. That way you can vent, question, or reevaluate your worries before they take hold and multiply. We have suggested some online communities to join below:
All run and moderated by and for autistic people, they offer opportunities to discuss your perspective with other neurodivergent people who may have some helpful advice or at least share some of your concerns.
Predominantly discussions and tips about autistic parenting but may include discussion around the topic of covid-19.
Look at advice on protecting yourself from a trusted source such as the NHS or WHO and complete the measures step by step without pushing them to unsafe or unsustainable extremes.
Take hand washing for example. Based on the NHS advice you should wash your hands in a thorough way for 20 secs as this will effectively sanitise them. An excellent, step by step pictorial guide can be found here:
This procedure is based on sound medical evidence.
It is true of every organism we know of that, once you have killed it, you cannot make it more dead and viruses are no exception. Unless your hands are heavily soiled, don’t feel that using huge quantities of soap for a longer time is necessarily more effective!
If you make your routine sanitary practice too harsh, difficult or time consuming it may result in undesirable side effects such as dry chapped skin; increased anxiety and obsessive repetition; all of which may lead you to give up altogether. Perform the activity for the time specified and then schedule in another absorbing activity to take your mind off it.
For more general information, updates about the coronavirus and a link to an easy read summary look here:
For tips on how to maintain good mental health during the crisis look here:
There is good, plainly put information and advice including a social story for kids on the National autistic Society website here: https://www.autism.org.uk/services/helplines/coronavirus.aspx
Autism Hampshire information, advice and guidance
Whilst many aspects of operation at our head office are suspended, we hope to maintain this service for as long as possible although we cannot offer face to face appointments for the foreseeable future.
You can contact the service by phone on this number:
As we are anticipating an even heavier demand than usual, please be patient if you experience a delay in replying.
All of us at Autism Hampshire wish all of you the very best during these trying times and hope that you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.