Dossier Covid-19

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The corona crisis is having an enormous impact on adults who have autism. This means that they are suffering from far more anxiety and depression symptoms than is normally the case. This is a cause for concern according to researchers at Ghent University (UGent). That’s their conclusion, based on a major study into the effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the daily life and psychological well-being of adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The research group EXPLORA (Experimental PsychoLogical Research on Autism) of UGent launched an extensive questionnaire on the consequences of the corona crisis for people with autism. 839 people from The Netherlands, Belgium, and the United Kingdom participated. More than half of them indicated that they suffer from some form of autism.

Shopping, in particular, causes a lot of stress for adults with autism. For example, certain products may not be available. Limits are set on how much time people are allowed to stay in a store. Or there are limits on the amounts of certain products that can be bought. And sometimes people have to queue up to get in somewhere.

Worried about their pets

They are, as the responses show, much more anxious than neurotypical adults about their pets during the pandemic. Or about how to get medication, how to shop, or how to correctly follow the measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Relieved of certain social commitments

On average, adults with autism experience more stress than neurotypical adults from changing their daily routines due to the pandemic. Such as work-related changes and the loss of outdoor activities. On the other hand, they feel relieved of certain social commitments that cause them stress. Like appointments or parties that they feel obliged to go to. Or unscheduled visits, or strangers who get too close.

“The stress stems from not being able to see my loved ones outside of my home, and feeling confined because of the social isolation, without having any idea when this will come to an end.

Yet the social distancing rule also creates new challenges specifically for adults with autism. For example, face masks make it difficult to read facial expressions. They also find communication via video conversations rather complicated. Nevertheless, responses to the open questions in the questionnaire clearly revealed that adults with autism have no less need for social contact than adults without autism. They pointed out in the study that they even tend to experience loneliness and social isolation more often. As a consequence, losing access to their own social safety net due to the restrictions on visiting seems to be a heavy burden for some.

A need for specific tips for those with autism

Adults living with autism also indicated that they consider it important to be personally involved in coming up with specific tips and tools for the autism community. Moreover, they are not yet satisfied with the information currently on offer. Setting up specific autism-friendly shopping hours, or a (‘buddy’) system whereby another person does the shopping for an adult with autism, would also help alleviate shopping stress.

Read also: A psychologist in every corona crisis management team