Isolation and Autism :: A Brutal Combination

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autism awareness month - Boston Moms

We are nearing the end of Autism Awareness Month, but we’re not quite at the end of this difficult period of isolation. It has been a very challenging time in my home, and I am sure almost everyone else is struggling too.

My husband is a pharmacist — an essential worker who still needs to leave our home daily to go to work. This means I am left home with three kids each Monday through Friday. My eldest son is 8 years old and on the autism spectrum. In some ways, he is the easiest kid to deal with out of my three. He loves his iPad and Nintendo and can get lost in a screen for hours. It sounds horrible to say, but I am really grateful for his iPad. It has served as a stable thing in his life when everything else is chaotic. It has given me a much-needed break, or, more often, the freedom to break up the constant fighting between kids number 2 and 3.

But the losses from the isolation we’re experiencing have been a huge problem for my son. He has refused to do any schoolwork at home. I think, in his mind, it is all black and white. Schoolwork is done at school, so why would or should he do any type of academic work at home?

I was able to pick up a computer from his school — one that he is more familiar with — hoping it may help him be more receptive to doing his schoolwork at home. I showed him his school computer, and he flipped out that it was in our house. So I am telling myself we’ll go slow and steady.

After a couple of days with the school computer I got him to play some of his favorite games he plays at school. This felt like a step in the right direction. He has also done a few Google Hangouts with both his special needs educator and with his homeroom class. This has had a mixed outcome. He was so excited to first see his classmates pop up on his screen, but he grew frustrated when it got so noisy with 25 children participating.

His biggest challenge is communication, and he especially struggles with his peer group. This isolation means he cannot work on the social skills he is already struggling with. As great as a Google Hangout is, he needs the in-person work to learn to read other people’s expressions and body language. The services he receives at school are vital to him and to us.  

We are taking it one day at a time. We are blessed with very patient and understanding teachers, speech pathologists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists who are telling me not to worry about it. But I am very worried about my son regressing during this time. Not just with academics but with the social component of school. I physically and emotionally cannot be his mother, teacher, speech therapist, PT, and OT. I cannot force him to do his schoolwork while wrangling two other children. I am not in a situation where I can do what I want to do or what I need to do.

I am trying to be kind to myself and not have mom guilt over thinking I could do better. This is such an extreme situation, and there is no clear path about how each family should approach it. However, I would be lying if I did not admit a twinge of envy when I see on social media the family that took a nice walk or the mom who has cleaned and purged the playroom. I am struggling to get through each hour, staring at the clock and waiting for the text that says my husband is on his way home.

Yes, we are in this together. I know everyone is at home, isolated, and worried. But knowing everyone else is also struggling does not make my struggle or yours any easier. It does not lift the burden and the overwhelm.  

I was recently asked, “When your children are adults, what do you want them to remember most about this time in their life?” I couldn’t answer. My mind went blank. The truth is, there is so much I hope they don’t remember. And, fortunately, they probably won’t. All the things I am stressing out about most likely won’t stick with them — and hopefully I won’t remember them either.

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Leah Lynch
Leah is a Massachusetts native who grew up in the MetroWest area. She met her husband in 2006 and they bonded over all things Boston. After moving to North Carolina for 4 years, they realized they had to move back to New England. (love that dirty water!) In 2011 they welcomed a son into their family. Then 2014, 1 week before having their daughter, their son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The last but not least little guy came in 2017. With three kids and special needs in their life, they rely on an amazing support system of friends and family. Leah is a stay at home mom, who is also growing a small business, and enjoying the independence and freedom it has given her. Loves: Great food (mostly made by her talented husband), playing with the kids, the beach, date nights, The Pats, The Sox, The B’s, new socks and bras, and American history, and movies. Can’t stand: Cotton balls, weeds, broken crayons, pollen, and vacuuming up Cheerios every half hour.

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