By Malcolm Wang
I have noticed that a lot of things have been cancelled and that a lot of places are closed because of COVID-19. Schools are closed. Libraries are closed. Therapy centers are closed. Churches are closed. People have been asking my mom, “How can I help my autistic child during the COVID-19 Quarantine?”
I know the answer to that question because I am autistic.
This week, I have been learning about new terms like social distancing and quarantine. According to the Centers For Disease Control, social distancing means, “avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” This means I should not go to places where there are a lot of people or hug my friends. Quarantine means separating a person or group of people who might have been exposed to a disease. That means everyone is living separately right now because we do not know who might have been exposed to COVID-19.
I made a list of things that are helping me stay calm even though my schedule has been cancelled. I hope this list can help other people.
1. Keep your regular routine
The most important thing to help me stay calm is to stay on my regular schedule at home. I go to sleep and wake up at the same time as always, I eat my meals at the same time as always, and I take a shower at the same time every day. Keeping a regular routine prevents tantrums and panic attacks. I still do my regular chores at home every night. I feel happy when I help my family.
2. Make a to-do list
Because everything is cancelled, I have to make my own schedule. At breakfast, I think about what I need to do and what I want to do. I ask my mom what needs to be done at home. I write the list. Here is an example of my to do list from Thursday, March 12, 2020:
1. Phone meeting with job coach
2. Prepare artwork for April art exhibit
3. Wire photos for gallery
4. Organize bedroom closet
5. Clean hallway bathroom
6. Read Percy Jackson and the Olympians book 4: The Battle of the Labyrinth
7. Fill soap dispensers
These were all things I could do at my house. I checked off each item after I finished it. I felt great about accomplishing something at the end of the day.
3. Go outdoors
Even though everything is closed, the hiking trails are still open. Yesterday, we went for a five mile hike at Brighton State Recreation Area. At Brighton State Recreation Area, there were twelve trail markers and we hiked trail marker number one (at the trailhead) and seven through twelve. There were no mosquitos and because it was not crowded, there was no COVID-19. I felt happy after hiking and the whole time while we were hiking.
If you cannot go outdoors, you should still exercise indoors. It is because it’s important to stay healthy all the time. Some exercises indoors I can do are lunges, sit-ups, and push-ups. Today, I did ninety five sit-ups, thirty lunges, and thirty one push-ups. There are also exercise videos on YouTube that anyone can follow at home.
During a quarantine, it’s really fun to play board games and to learn new games. I won’t discuss video games because they are not good for my health. Video games can cause insomnia (inability to sleep), anxiety and depression (when you feel sad all the time). Too much screen time and social media is also unhealthy for the same reasons. But, board games are healthy. Some examples of board games that are fun for me are Suspend, Onitama, Othello, Otrio, Tsuro, and No Stress Chess. My brother likes strategy and role playing games like Memoir ‘44 and Arcadia Quest. These games encourage healthy thinking and planning.
6. Spiritual practice
Spiritual practice has a calming effect on the brain. This can mean connecting with nature, meditating, praying, chanting, or any other activity that helps you see your purpose in life. Yesterday, I attended a prayer service online and that made me feel calm and peaceful inside.
7. Life skills
The quarantine is a really good time to learn more about life skills. I am working on organizing my closet, cleaning the bathroom, writing professional emails, cooking meals, doing laundry, yardwork, and other adult activities. I really enjoy doing those things because I am helping my family a lot and learning how to be an adult.
8. Go online
Even though it’s not healthy to spend too much time online, there are many programs that are helpful during the quarantine. For example, the Friendship Circle offers recreational programs for children with disabilities through their Facebook page, “FC Goes Virtual.” The organization is livestreaming yoga and art classes for children. Another Facebook page, “Make,” is offering free art classes for kids online. Most museums are closed but have online exhibits. For example, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. has an online exhibit of Raphael right now.
9. Creativity at home
I enjoy doing art projects at home: painting, making homemade play dough, drawing and coloring, cooking, and creative writing. These are examples of ways to reduce stress and increase happiness. There is a hashtag, #Quarantineandchill, that people are using to share their calming strategies. I like seeing creative solutions on this hashtag.
10. Ask for help
If you are having trouble dealing with stress during the quarantine, you should always ask for help. On the app “NextDoor”, I have neighbors who post when they are available to help people during the quarantine. Because this is a stressful time, helping each other is more important than ever.
Malcolm Wang is an artist in Michigan. His next exhibit is in April 2020 at the Novi Civic Center. The exhibit will have thirty new photos from his nature hikes. Malcolm was diagnosed with autism at age three.