‘He is getting very frustrated’ - How people with autism are coping in lockdown
PUBLISHED: 06:30 02 April 2020 | UPDATED: 07:26 02 April 2020
The coronavirus lockdown is impacting across all parts of society but there are concerns that it will cause a rise in mental health problems for children and adults with autism. Reporter SOPHIE WYLLIE finds out how groups are supporting these people through technology.
Routine, socialising, regular activities and trips out are all important in the day-to-day lives of children, teenagers and adults with autism.
But following strict lockdown controls from the government to control the spread of coronavirus, which came into force just over a week ago, face-to-face activities led by support groups and access to schools and day centres have been shut down.
Many parents of children and adults with autism are now acting as 24/7 sole carers and there are fears that the lockdown will have serous impacts on the mental and physical health of people with autism.
Karan McKerrow, 59, branch chairman of the National Autistic Society’s (NAC) West Norfolk Branch, who also cares for her 22-year-old son who has autism, said: “There is bound to be an impact on mental health. We are very busy trying to do what we do as a group but all our activities have come to a halt.”
She said it was difficult for some people with autism to understand the rule of staying two metres away from others when outside and some people struggled to go for a short walk outside their home because of sensory overload.
Each year the group, which has around 400 adult and child members, organises more than 250 activities at venues from swimming to soft play.
But the volunteers who help run the group are putting their efforts into uploading support and activity ideas through videos on its NAS West Norfolk Facebook page including tips on home schooling, relaxation, helping with mental health issues, anxiety and keeping a routine.
Ms McKerrow said: “We are trying to keep in touch with people remotely. People are mainly coping but with a great deal of difficulty. We are still here and we are saying to people they are not alone.”
One way the group is boosting people’s spirits is asking them to host a lunch or afternoon tea to mark World Autism Day on Thursday, April 2 and send in their pictures or video to email@example.com
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Another autism support group in Norfolk, NAS Norwich Branch, is marking World Autism Day by asking anyone to film or take pictures of bubble-related activities in their home and upload them onto Facebook using #NASNOrwichGroup.
Group founder Joanna Corbyn, 38, from Old Catton, Norwich, who has a six-year-old daughter with autism called Darcie, said: “Because Darcie is non-verbal she doesn’t comprehend why she cannot go out. It is a very difficult situation. It is good to establish your own routine and not worry about sticking to school timetables. Adapt to whatever you think you can do.”
She advised parents to think about their own mental health and not put too much pressure on themselves.
She said the NAS Norwich Branch Facebook page offered a community support network as well as advice on where to go for extra support.
Carol Barnes, 62, from Caister near Great Yarmouth, who cares for her 31-year-old son with severe autism, said: “My son is very routine-based. Everything he does is quick and he is always thinking about his next activity. He is getting very frustrated. We cannot leave the house to go for a walk as he would walk straight through people. The biggest thing I’m scared about is if anything happened to me and husband and we got the virus. If he got it he wouldn’t understand. It is a nightmare.”
Sharon Sapwell, 49, from Wormegay, who cares for her 21 and 24-year-old autistic sons, said: “Everything they do socially has closed. They can’t understand why and I can’t explain how long it will go on for. The lockdown has impacted their mental health because things are very black and white for them. It is tough.”
North Norfolk District Council member Emma Spagnola, from Cromer, who has two autistic sons aged seven and five, said the situation was “pretty horrendous” partly because her sons only ate certain items which were not always available.
Nicola Sansom, 48, from Lingwood, said her 10-year-old daughter Evie, who is waiting to be diagnosed with autism, is missing socialising with friends at the Yarmouth-based Sunbeams Play session for children with autism.
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