March 24th was our son’s 27th birthday. We ventured to Matthew’s home with a birthday cake his sister baked, and while there were not yet official isolation rules in place, we kept a respectable distance from the personal support workers and staff at his group home. Little did we know that it would be weeks, possibly months, before we would be able to kiss him, hug him, or have our Friday ‘date night’ at Swiss Chalet again.
Our son has autism. He is non-verbal and requires 24/7 care. Matthew requires considerable supports but has an incredible ‘filing cabinet’ memory – he knows where his favourite restaurants are and uses pointing, sounds and visual cues to communicate.
He also knows that life has changed for him. Mom and Dad no longer come around on Friday to take him to our local Swiss Chalet, where the staff know our family and all our orders. No more Sunday night visits home where Matthew remembers where all his favourite foods are in the house. No more walks or car rides. No more gym workouts with his awesome trainer, Daniel.
And he doesn’t know why this has happened.
We have FaceTimed with Matthew a few times, but while he can see us and hear us, the look of puzzlement on his face tells us he doesn’t really understand this. After weeks of this new way of interacting, he has started to smile and ‘touch’ the phone in his way of saying ‘hi’ or ‘bye’. His team has been incredibly supportive and creative in finding ways to keep Matthew and his housemates engaged and busy, avoid harmful or aggressive behaviours, and practice lots of hand washing, cleaning and sanitizing!
Social isolation has been hard for everyone, and for us and Matthew, it’s turned our world upside down. We’re worried about how much longer this will go on; when we can visit in person or get back to our Friday date nights. Even when we do, those dinners at Swiss Chalet may be permanently different.
People talk about the ‘silver lining’ in all of this. For Matthew, I wonder what that is.
This pandemic has made one thing crystal clear: our health and the love we have for our family are the most important things. It is also the reason we have been practicing ‘physical distancing’, to protect those we love, particularly the elderly and vulnerable. We all need someone to love. For people with autism and other developmental disabilities, they need life to return to normal, or whatever that ‘new normal’ looks like, soon.
So, please keep washing your hands and practicing social distancing for just a bit longer; we, and other parents like us, will be so grateful.
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