Person with Autism Spectrum Order and Caregiver Learn to Reignite Hope amid COVID-19
The month of April is the World Autism Month, while 2 April is declared by The United Nations General Assembly as the World Autism Awareness Day. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized by different degrees of impairment and deviance in the development of social communication, cognition and emotions, and presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests as well as sensory processing problems. For Person with Autism Spectrum Order (PWA), the pandemic surely has aggravated the burden on their shoulders.
Ching Ho’s sharing
Ching Ho is one of the service users in New Life’s support services for PWA for over five years. In the midst of the fifth wave of the pandemic, when hundreds of places were listed in the compulsory testing notice, he had to undergo eight compulsory tests in just one month.
"I was so anxious and worried when I was told to have the PCR test. And I was afraid that a positive test result could be coming. Those cold and rainy days made me feel dreary and miserable… I would rather not talk or even think about it.”
---- Ching Ho
Ching Ho’s mother
Ching Ho used to spend an hour everyday in the MTR to go across the harbour to a social enterprise bakery where he works. However back to the time when the number of confirmed cases surged, Ching Ho’s anxiety lifted too. He was worried of being exposed to the virus on the way to the workplace. Knowing his concern, Ching Ho’s mother decided to apply for leave for her son to stay at home. Nevertheless, in early March, Ching Ho was shocked and terrified as he had tested positive by the Rapid Antigen Test (RAT). "It was devastating, I could hardly believe that……I was afraid that my family would be infected, but then I was anxious that I would be forced to leave my mother and my home and be isolated in an alien environment.”
As a caregiver of Ching Ho, Ching Ho’s mother was also in distress after her son’s infection. Yet she still tried to comfort him, and encouraged Ching Ho to keep up with his favourite activity: baking, which could make him happy and keep him occupied while staying at home. After Ching Ho recovered, she also accompanied him to travel around by MTR, in order to help him overcome the psychological barrier to commute.
"Ching Ho and I had to dine alone after he got infected, I could see his sadness during his first meal alone through his red eyes and tears that were about to drop…… But I just had to calm myself first. He could be easily affected by my emotions.” Ching Ho’s mother said.
Ms Leung, a social worker at the iSPA - Support Center for Persons with Autism, observed that the pandemic clearly aggravates PWAs’ engagement with the outside world as they have fewer chances to communicate, and therefore become more passive, depressive and even self-isolated. The changes brought by the pandemic such as the suspension of physical classes and online classes are also difficult for them to adapt to. They could feel anxious too even when classes resume and hence would require more time to get used to it. Ms Leung recommends PWAs to relieve their stress and anxiety by practicing mindful exercises, and taking more exercises about social communications.
Get to know what PWAs need
The latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates about one in 44 children has been identified with ASD, implying a growth trend when compared to a previous figure that suggests one in 54 children was estimated to have ASD. New Life’s iSPA Support Centre for Persons with Autism is a subvented service funded by the Social Welfare Department to provide support and consultation services to PWAs, caregivers and frontline workers since March 2019.
This service is designed to strengthen PWAs’ social competence, employability and emotional management with goals in independent living and social integration through comprehensive assessments in PWAs’ developmental needs, customized services for PWAs and support services for caregivers.