Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Staying Safe versus Slippery Slope: Autistic Children during Coronavirus Lockdowns

A Black child having fun  in a field by themselves
I will be careful in what I write.

We are in the middle of a very serious Coronavirus situation.  It's really important that everyone does their best to avoid getting the virus.  And it's really important that everyone does their best not to give the virus to other people.

There are lots of good Government advisory details.  For example https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus  and https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do which e.g. tell people to keep a safe distance where possible, and wash their hands properly.

It also tells people when they can go outside.

Each country will have its own rules on this.  It's important to follow those rules wherever you can.

And, having said this, I'm seeing too many cases in the media where (for example) a desperate parent has taken their autistic child out for a play in a field, by themselves.  Just the parent and the child.  No-one else in sight.  Not touching other stuff.  The child may need to get outside for familiarity to stop meltdowns or shutdowns, to prevent these awful, exhausting brain events (now believed similar to a form of epilepsy, not a bad attitude).  To prevent the long term anxiety and trauma for the child from experiencing them endlessly.

The parent gets shouted at.
How DARE they be outside, a safe distance from other people.
How DARE they not be in their house.
If they go outside, EVERYONE will go outside and do what they're doing.
They are Putting Lives at Risk.
They're using their child as an EXCUSE.

Frankly, it's not very kind, and it's usually not very right.

The 'slippery slope' argument....that if one person does it, everyone will do it...well, that depends whether we think that no-one is capable of understanding the reason for that autistic child being in a field with their parent.  That perhaps because of a need to avoid meltdowns/shutdowns, this is important for their health.  That this is a kind thing for a society to do, to allow people to stay safe and healthy in the best possible way they can find in that moment.  Without it, meltdown after meltdown may well lead to injury and hospitalisation and greater risk of catching the virus, for them and for the parent.

This isn't a naughty child getting something that another child can't have, selfishly.
This isn't a parent who is deliberately getting something 'better' for their child as a selfish excuse.

This is a parent who is perhaps keeping their autistic child physically and mentally safe, whilst also staying away from other people.

Yes, there will be some autistic children who are fine and safe indoors all the time, or on one standard walk round a street.

There are others who are not.

As a society, we need to do our absolute best for one another.  And that includes showing compassion for children and young people (and indeed any adults) who may be at very real risk from the terrifying changes of routine and inability to move freely.

France has done well, with this.  
https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/02/france-eases-lockdown-autistic-people-can-go-reassuring-places-12499265/ allowing autistic children extra exercise, to keep them safe and well.

We can do similarly, working with local families to find safe solutions for them.  The new guidance from the UK Government allows for exercise more than once a day, where needed (safely).  See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do?fbclid=IwAR1Lb1rj6LAKKLeG5QFQA_gM-smFl0nOwLj7OAFS47gJ9NsJXOpgxRSgo6U part 15.  As an autism adviser working with the NHS, I recommend that any autistic person who has an autism related need to exercise safely more than once a day does just that.

So, if you see a child who is nowhere near anyone else but a loved family member, exercising, (maybe an extra walk at a safe distance from others, maybe playing a game with a parent, away from others) consider whether they may have an invisible disability or a neurodiversity such as autism, and whether this is a vital part of them staying safe and well.

Am I saying they should be free to spread virus over public surfaces e.g. swings and roundabouts?  No. I am talking about e.g. running around playing their own games in an open field, not breaking into sealed-off playgrounds. 

Please give a child with a parent/carer the benefit of the doubt, and encourage others to understand that there may be very real health reasons for a rule being different for different people.

Thank you for reading.