After nearly three months of lockdown I thought it would be a good moment to reflect on the experience from my autistic viewpoint. As ever, I speak only for myself. Other autistic people, I know, have had very different experiences. But there may be some who can relate to what I am saying.
On the positive side, I have discovered how much I like working from home. In fact, it is a revelation just how much time in a typical non-lockdown day I have spent coping with environmental and social challenges. My biggest memory of the last meeting I had at the university is not what was said but rather the horrendous strip lighting, the asymmetry of panels on the walls, and my efforts to mask.
At home, I have almost complete control over my environment, a great routine and a set of rules to live by. I really like social distancing - in fact, I’ve been longing for it all my life - and I find online communication mostly fine, apart from some of the unexpected noises. The only problem, really, is that I don’t know when to stop working, which makes me more productive than ever, but perhaps not sufficiently work/life balanced.
But the message change from ‘stay home’ to ‘stay alert’ has lost me. I can follow the first, but the second is meaningless. And the constant lying and hypocrisy from our political leaders is really distressing. I can only deal with it by treating it all as nonsense.
Worse still, the recent ‘relaxation’ has created all sorts of uncertainty about social interaction. For example, keeping two metres distance is a clear rule, but how can I do that when there are so many more people about? What are the rules if someone is coming towards you in a narrow spot and showing no signs of wanting to move out of the way? I’m just staying at home as much as possible - it’s clearer and safer.
Shopping continues to create anxiety. Whereas before the difficulty was mainly sensory overload, now it’s more about social interaction. I had to leave the queue outside my local Tescos because people were getting cross with me about where I was standing. They actually shouted at me. I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I left before I shut down, but the result was that I did not go shopping that day.
My biggest anxiety is that the university will force me to return to campus. I can do my job perfectly well from home, including all the research AND the teaching. It requires some adjustments, of course, but I find these a creative challenge rather than a major problem. But universities are worried about their futures and are keen to see us back together on campus as soon as possible. If it gets to a situation where they require me to return before there is a vaccine, I don’t know what I’d do. Perhaps I’d resign. I try to reassure myself that management has been very good at understanding my needs so far, but it still does worry me just the same.
I like living in a locked-down way, free from many of the sensory/social challenges that I grapple with every day. I hope I don’t have to give up my job to preserve that.