Wednesday, 22 July 2020

11 Ways Social Distancing Rules Have Affected My Autistic Boyfriend

woman and man sat down, he is leaning his head against hers and she is holding his beard

*Disclaimer: I am not autistic but my boyfriend is and wanted me to discuss this topic on his behalf

COVID-19 has certainly changed the way we live, and with lockdown lifting the virus is still a massive concern to me and my boyfriend. Ian was officially diagnosed as autistic after an array of assessments two years ago, but even without the piece of paper, we knew. He just wanted to have proof for, in his words, 'to explain the way I am'.

The main ways the new social distancing rules have impacted Ian are:

Wearing a mask
- Ian tried to wear a mask on an outing to the hospital but due to having something unusual on his face he found it very difficult. He explained that he was concentrating on his breathing and then focussing on each breath which frustrated him and he disliked the hot breath that stayed within the mask. Also physically having the mask on his face and being a glasses wearer steaming up his lenses was annoying. This all led to stress, frustration and upset. He absolutely despised wearing one and refuses to do so, he'd rather not go out.

He also finds it really hard when other people are wearing masks as he can't distinguish what people are saying due to not being able to see their mouths and he can't pick out their voice from all the other noises that are happening around him. He often wears headphones when we go out so he can drown out some of the noise but he is unable to do that now because he doesn't know if someone is talking to him behind a mask.

I remember a few years ago when we were in the car, he asked me what I could hear and I said 'the radio, why?' and he responded with all the different sounds of the engine, the bass in the song, the sound the tyres make against different parts of the road, the bird that tweeted when we drove by. His senses are constantly overloaded so having a mask on his face, covering his nose and mouth is really difficult.

Medical exemption
- Ian does not like talking to people and he is worried about being questioned as to why he is not wearing a mask which he is medically exempt from. I am often with him whenever he goes out so would explain on his behalf but part of his routine is going to the shop over the road from us on his own, and as of next week face coverings must be worn so he does not know how to get around this. He either wears a mask which causes severe distress, tries to explain his exemption, or changes his routine - all of which are difficult. He is also aware that strangers in shops will have an opinion and is concerned of being questioned.

Following social distancing directions
- Before the virus outbreak, Ian despised going to Ikea and Tiger because of the arrows on the floor directing him which way he could and couldn't walk; we actively avoided these places because it would stress him out. Now most shops have some kind of system to walk around and Ian doesn't see the point in walking around the whole shop if he only wants one thing and it is near the till. He has been told off in our local shop for not adhering to the rules but there's often been nobody else in the shop and he's got very annoyed as he can't comprehend why it would make sense to follow the arrows if there's nobody in the store.

Routine disturbances
- Every day that we have lived in our current property, Ian has gone to the shop over the road, sometimes multiple times a day, even if its just for a can of Coke, as it's part of his routine. However, since the rules have been put in place, it is something he no longer enjoys doing. He dislikes having to wait outside (sometimes) in the rain, following the one-way system as mentioned above and not being able to get the things he likes to buy.

Ian loves walking our dogs, Teddy and George but recently is not enjoying it quite as much because he is anxious of the virus.

Man with beard and glasses sat on bed cuddling a brown and white cockapoo

Food stock disruption
- It's been difficult to find specific food and drinks as everywhere is selling out or fast food places closed, and Ian is very particular in what he likes to eat and drink so not having everything available is frustrating.

Being isolated
- We are all dealing with being isolated from our loved ones but it is taking its toll on Ian as he finds phone calls and video chats really uncomfortable. I have stayed connected with my friends via the various modes of technology but Ian hasn't and can't. He has one friend that used to come round once a week but he hasn't seen not spoken to (other than the odd text message) in four months.

People not taking it seriously
- It massively annoys Ian that other people are not taking the social distancing rules seriously, even though he has difficulty with some of them. He thinks a lot of people believe that the virus has magically disappeared and are not bothered which aggravates him.  

He also finds it hard when walking our two dogs because people will want to come and say hello to Teddy and George like they did before the virus but he doesn't want them close to him in case they are a potential carrier, and he can't explain to someone to not come near him. 

Not being able to attend appointments with me
- I have had a few hospital appointments and Ian always goes with me, mainly for support but also because my memory is awful and he helps me give all the information to my doctors. He has come with me but waited in the car as only one person is allowed in. He hasn't been happy about this because he wants to be there for me.

Asking to enter places
- If Ian is unsure whether he can enter a shop he just hovers outside until someone tells him he can enter instead of finding out if he can go inside. He simply can't ask a stranger a question as feels uncomfortable and anxious.

Unpredictability of everything
- This one is pretty self-explanatory. Ian likes his routine, he finds change incredibly difficult and as everything is constantly changing, he is in a constant fear of the unknown.

People keeping their distance
- The only positive thing Ian can think of is that those people that do adhere to the rules don't stand too close to him as he hates people being near him.

Ian is aware that some of these points may seem trivial to some, especially those that don't know much about autism, but they have seriously hindered his mental health and he has struggled a lot, and continues to do so. He has a disability and therefore things affect him differently due to being autistic. His disability is also invisible so it is worth considering that before commenting or approaching someone who is not wearing a mask because it could deeply distress them. And let's be honest, it's not your job to police anyone...unless you're the police.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks SARAH for your very helpful explanation it helps a lot.Both of you keep well. Peter


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