Dr Meng-Chuan Lai, Clinician Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and University of Toronto, has collaborated with the Autism Research Centre since his PhD and postdoc. To mark Autism Awareness Month, here he reveals the contrasting experiences and reactions of the autism community to the exceptional circumstances of the past year.

Routines disrupted. Plans cancelled. Home-schooling and remote working becoming the new ‘norm’. These unprecedented and dramatic changes to the world as we knew it, due to the frightening pandemic, have placed unimaginable demands on most of us – not least autistic people and their families.

“It is all very difficult. Yet some reactions are emerging, and it isn’t all negative”, notes Dr Meng-Chuan Lai. “Not surprisingly, the past 12 months have been tough for families who have lost the support they would ordinarily have; children at home the whole time, with disrupted routines and family work/life balance. The general uncertainty of the situation also takes a huge toll on financial and emotional stability.”

On the other hand, he reveals, patterns are emerging of how for some autistic children and adults, lockdown life is somehow easier:

“When demands are reduced, this is welcome news to many; life is simpler. Pre-COVID life was already an overload of activity and senses for so many autistic people. The autistic child who is bullied at school may welcome online learning from the safety net of the home. Some autistic adults are far more comfortable remote working, eliminating the noise and chaos that comes with commuting, as well as the environmental and social demands made in the workplace.”

COVID has forced us to be imaginative, and to accommodate and create different opportunities in the ways we are learning, living, and working – and autistic people and their families may benefit from this diverse outlook. Arguably, it demonstrates what we should have been doing all along.

Going forward, it's important that we fund more research that can look into the long-term effects of this pandemic, the good and the bad, and how it is affecting autistic children, adults and their families and carers. 

If you're interested in funding more autism research, please donate online today. Thank you.