While adults are confused and worried by the unfolding Coronavirus crisis, parents of children on the autistic spectrum are faced with the problem of explaining the new world of social isolation and shielding.
For mum-of-two Meta Auden, owner of Spectra Sensory Clothing, the rolling news cycle produced the statement from her niece Emily that if she ended up in hospital, because of underlying health problems she was one of those who would not be saved – something her 19-year-old autistic daughter Kirsty took to heart.
The situation in Northern Ireland has changed so dramatically that children on the autistic spectrum have been left with reliable routines disrupted, no visits to extended family members and little in terms of schooling.
Meta is clear that communicating with children on the autistic spectrum is essential given they are seeing so much on the news and online about Covid-19.
“We are bombarded on the news and online with this unfolding crisis. It is crucial that we take the time to understand it ourselves and communicate appropriately.”
“It will be the case that they have questions and we must not try and sugar coat what is a serious matter, especially as it may affect relatives that your child has an attachment to.”
And, as Meta explained it can be a challenge in terms of how the information is conveyed. “The other thing about a child on the spectrum is they take everything very literal,” she explained. “The first time Kirsty heard the expression ‘it‘s raining cats and dogs’ she fully expected to see that. Meta and her husband fostered then adopted Kirsty, and whilst they knew she had ADHD, it was later she was diagnosed with being on the autistic spectrum disorder that they began to understand Kirsty behaviour. But she warns that each child on the spectrum will be different.
“When you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism,” Meta said. “It is a very wide spectrum and some children are totally non-verbal. Each one will be on a different part of the spectrum, and how they can be supported is best determined by you, as a parent, knowing better than anyone else how to help.”
Despite having cancer post-natal depression after having her son Matthew, as well as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and nerve pain from having a mastectomy and reconstruction Meta started her own business, as she says at the tender age of “57 and three quarters”.
It was Kirsty’s issue with clothing that prompted her to start Spectra Sensory Clothing.
“I would buy her clothes and she would never wear them,” Meta explained. “She never told me why, and we had arguments, when she was told off, she would be smirking.”
As she has developed a range of clothing designed specifically for children on the spectrum it has led her to meet other parents, and that connection is vital during the spread of Covid-19.
“The first thing you need to remember is you are not alone in dealing with this. Other parents and carers are considering how to cope and have the same worries that you may have,” Meta said. “If you have a network then reach out to it through your phone, the Internet or social media. There is a lot of comfort to hear ‘I know what you mean’ from another parent.
“The exchange of tips and ideas are vital, even just to have someone to speak to that understands.”
“I asked her the other night before bed what were her thoughts on the whole crisis. She answered by saying that she was able to just let her mind go blank.
“What she said in her own words was ‘I am talking to you, but my mind is blank, I am not thinking about anything’. What do you say to that?”
Despite being frightened in her own way Kirsty is coping, “I have to say that the whole isolation bit does not bother her at all,” Meta said. “I am not surprised as she never wants to go out and doesn’t even need to talk to people.
For more information about Meta’s company Spectra Sensory Clothing which sources, manufactures and retails clothing, accessories and other products aimed at people on the autism spectrum go to spectrasensoryclothing.co.uk