Rapid change is painful.
You don’t expect your entire world to be turned upside down overnight. You didn’t expect to be living in lockdown for extended periods of time either.
Lockdown was still novel and new—photos of freshly baked sourdough bread and cupcakes were everywhere across your social media. A sense of togetherness bound people together. Having worked from home for several years, the adaptation to having everyone else around all the time wasn’t too hard.
Besides, it was the perfect time to catch up on online courses. So much positivity everywhere.
It was probably around the four to six-week mark when I first started to feel a little cabin crazy. When your world ends at your front door, the air begins to crush in on you ever so slowly.
Our autistic son had started college about six months earlier.
We had been worried that the sudden changes in his life would be hard for him to cope with. Instead, he surprised us in a great way.
He needs to get as much information together as he can. Getting it all ahead of time is better, but he copes with last-minute changes quite well now.
After he has his info together, he processes everything.
At first, the lockdown in the United Kingdom was going to last three weeks. We didn’t think three weeks would be the end of it, but we figured we’d wait to break the news to him slowly. We didn’t need to bother. He does his own research. A laptop and a wifi connection are all he needs.
You might make allowances when you are dealing with an autistic person. What you might forget is that people can move faster than you think they can.
We started explaining that lockdown would probably be three months rather than three weeks long, but he was ahead of the game. The autistic brain can be a powerful pattern-matching machine, and the boy had not been wasting that wifi connection.
His quest to know more, to understand everything all at once, led him to read huge amounts of news articles from around the world.
Different countries were approaching pandemic solutions in different ways.
Once he had cross-referenced different leaders' speeches and worked out their approaches, he knew that the UK lockdown was never going to be three weeks long.
He was prepared and accepting of his new reality without fuss or bother. Get the facts first, then read between the lines and adapt quickly.
Autistic kids spend a lot of time learning coping strategies to fit in with the world around them. Fortunately, your brain enables you to adapt a toolkit you already use for a situation for another.
College classes moved online and with no prompting from us, he adapted to the new teaching style.
He didn’t stop there. He changed his fitness regime. Worked out a running route and frequency that would take him about an hour to complete (thanks Google maps).
You hear him laughing off the crazy in the world around him.
You still have to make him lunch, even though he can do it for himself. He’s like any other teenager. We like that.
You surprise yourself when you see how a lifetime of learning coping strategies can enable and transform your child far beyond being able to ‘fit in’.
Those skillsets are fully transferable.
You discover that your concerns for your autistic child have been a little misplaced. The massive change that lockdown brought to all of us wasn’t ever a real problem for them.
They had a kind of process in place for themselves all along. Superpowers.
- Get all the facts first, then read between the lines.
- Accept what is out of your control.
- Trust in your ability to adapt quickly.
- You have more skills than you know.
- Embrace change when it comes.
It turns out that rapid change really is painful, especially for a parent of an autistic child that has already leapfrogged ahead of a father’s expectation.
“Don’t worry dad. This brain is fully operational.”