‘My son is autistic. He is totally nonverbal, but understands what a lockdown means’

Meenakshi Sharma, a self-taught artist, who lives in Mohali, talks about the lockdown and what it has meant for her autistic son “who has understood a few concepts fairly quickly”

Prerna Shah
| Updated: May 9th, 2020

Meenakshi Sharma is a self-taught artist who lives in Mohali with her family. She enjoys reading, tending to her balcony garden and, of course, putting brush to paper. She has a son, 26, who is autistic. The lockdown has altered his routine and made him anxious. But despite being nonverbal, he has adjusted well. Read her story …

My son is 26 and autistic. He is totally nonverbal. When the lockdown was announced, I explained to him what was going to happen. He saw the Prime Minister’s address; he followed the news on the news channels. He could grasp that we cannot go out.

Now there are a few issues with his condition. Since he is nonverbal, he cannot explain to me how he feels. He suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. For a few days in the beginning, he was disturbed. He wasn’t eating properly, was sweating a lot, had nausea and vomiting. I understood that he was very anxious and on the verge of a panic attack.

Routine is very important for him and it takes time for him to cope with any changes in his routine. Also, the news was playing again and again and it also perhaps had an effect on him.

He understood a few concepts fairly quickly. Like, going to a shop or marketplace translates into a crowd for him (i.e. there will be more than two people at shops and hence it is a no-go area) and he wouldn’t venture out at all. He loves walking our dog and that he likes to do within our gated community because he is accompanied with either me or his sister and that isn’t a crowd as per his understanding.

Wearing a mask is difficult for him as he struggles with tactile issues. He doesn’t like the feel of a mask on his face. He is not being difficult – tactile issues can be a part and parcel of the lives of those who are autistic or on the autism spectrum.

Sometimes, a child or an adult who is nonverbal and autistic can get aggressive if they are frustrated and anxious and because they cannot express themselves or put into words how they feel and what is troubling them.

However, he has adjusted well. A part of it is because we have tried and made him understand what is going on around him and it is also because we have tried to keep his routine as it is. There are some things we cannot do of course – like a part of his routine was to watch the trailers and promos of new Hindi movie releases on certain Fridays of the month. This isn’t happening at the moment and I realise that he misses that a lot. There are days when he wants to go and buy something. We make him understand the situation again. He listens. I don’t know how it will pan out if the lockdown continues for a longer time, but we will do our best.

I have to say that even before the lockdown, I was quite a homebody. I didn’t really go out a lot. My life revolves around my family, and I had always tried to make my son’s routine and care a priority. So, if he didn’t like a change in his routine or travelling, socialising and dinners out, I avoided that. If we did go out, we would be back home by or before seven in the evening.

In that way, my life seems much like it was before. However, I understand that for many parents whose children have special needs, this is a most difficult time. If the children are younger, various therapies – be it for speech, motor skills or several others are a part of their daily life. If the child misses these therapies, there’s a fear of regressing, of losing the skills that they have worked so hard with their therapists to acquire.

Since my son is 26, most of his therapies are done with. These were a part of his life when he was a child.

One of the minor challenges I face is not because of my son, it is to do with my work. My art supplies are running out. Also, I have some pending orders that I need to work on, plus some that are completed need to be couriered. However, my clients are understanding of the situation, and so they are ready to wait till all services are back to normal.

I have to admit that because of the lockdown, I pushed myself to learn something new – how to handle money digitally. I can now use Google pay to pay bills and much more.

Prerna Shah has worked as a journalist, content and communications professional and she blogs here.