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Mothering an Autistic Child During COVID-19

By Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" Blog Series - Slice #17


Hello everyone, mothers especially. This month is once again that time of year where we celebrate mothers during the special occasion of Mother’s Day, but because we are still in the middle of a pandemic, this Mother’s Day will be as different as it was a year ago. A year ago, when the pandemic first began, mothers across the globe have dealt with adjusting to the changes of celebrating Mother’s Day with their children, especially mothers with children on the autism spectrum. One mother particularly name Alysia Abbot, expresses her grief of celebrating Mother’s Day with her autistic child in a Washington Post article titled Mother’s Day, from a distance.

In the article, Alysia starts off by describing her latest interaction with her son through virtual web chat, but then describes her son’s behavior as being more distant than usual when she states, “…Finn is more detached during this call, I notice, more apt to look out the window.” Being away from her autistic son is nothing new to Alysia. After all, she has spent the past three years living 40 minutes away from him. The normal routine for Alysia would be that she and her husband visit their son every Sunday, and they would pick him up at a house where he lives at with eight other boys and their attendants. They would drive him to their house in the afternoon and take him to their local park as well as his favorite stores. Since Finn has a limitation to expressive language as well as intellectual deficits in addition to autism, Alysia has relied strongly on another routine involving tactile experiences that would help her feel closer to him. In the article, she states, “When he was smaller, I would carry him on my back. I loved shouldering the full weight of him. This was the closest I could get to what a tight hug would feel like. After he moved away, he would greet me by finding and then patting my stomach, as if to say, yes, this is you. On the drive to our house, I would reach my hand to him and he would study my fingers with his fingers, his tactile attention itself an expression of love.” Due to the pandemic, schools had to close across Alysia’s state, and Finn’s school made the decision that home visits would be forbidden. Being separated from her child has caused Alysia to lose her sense of contact with him when she states, “In absence of being with Finn in person, I struggle to feel connected. I used to take photos of him every Sunday. Now I study the photos his teachers take and send by email. Is he happy? What is he thinking? What is he wanting today?”

Alysia explains her new routine while living in the new normal of life in COVID-19, she talks about how she must now drive to Finn’s house once a week to drop off his clothes as well as his favorite snacks which are Tic-Tacs and chicken wings. She leaves the bag of items on the porch, rings the doorbell, and then she drives away. Despite these drastic changes made in her life, Alysia is grateful to hang on to what she still has left with Finn when she states, “It’s these deliveries, the familiar drive, that soothes me, that makes me feel we’re still connected in the incarnate world.” Living a temporary new life in COVID-19 has not been easy for her autistic son Finn either. In the article, Alysia describes Finn’s frustrations with adapting to a temporary new way of living when she states, “During the first few weeks of the shutdown Finn’s teachers reported more aggressions, more “property destruction” and “self-injurious behavior.” Finn doesn’t have the capacity to understand a health pandemic. He can’t understand the need to distance for safety, why he can’t see his parents or go out like he used to.” Adapting to change is hard, and like I stated before it is especially hard for autistic people to adapt to change as well. Alysia explains in her article, that although adapting to change due to COVID-19 is a challenging experience, it will become numb to you over time when she states, “People are remarkably adaptable. Lock us in our homes and at first, we will protest and cry. But over time we will acclimate. We will get used to losing our freedoms, our ability to walk the streets with faces uncovered, to go wherever we’d like and see whomever we’d like. We cut down on our freedoms now so we may have more freedom later.”

In conclusion, does this anecdote sound like you? Does this sound like something you are currently experiencing with your autistic child? If the answer is yes, I hope that after you read this blog, you will realize that you are not alone. I hope you will also realize that you do not have to feel like you are alone for Mother’s Day, or any day after that. This global pandemic may have put us at a distance with one another, but it has also made us more grateful and appreciative for the small moments that we get to share with one another. To every mother that has struggled with raising their autistic child during the pandemic, I want you to know that all the sacrifices and efforts you have made are well appreciated and highly valued and I want you to also know that there are people in your life who appreciate what you have been doing for your autistic child/children during these challenging difficult times, and most importantly your autistic child/children appreciates you for everything you had to do in order to not only take care of them, but also stay connected with them in their lives. This Mother’s Day, I want mothers with autistic children to remember that even if you are miles apart, you will always be close at heart. Thank you. ~Melissa

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