Coronavirus Challenges for the Unique

We find ourselves working from home, suddenly being a homeschool teacher, and-for some-becoming home speech therapists or organizers of tele-therapy.

Due to Coronavirus, states and cities have tightened their regulations for face-mask wearing. In California, you can be refused service at grocery stores and any open essential business if you don't have a facial-covering. Some cities have taken it a step further, Beverly Hills and Glendale now give out $1,000 fines if you are outside of your private property without a mask on. Understandably, these regulations are in place for the safety and well-being of the public.

But the 'public' is diverse, there are kids, teenagers, and adults that are considered to have 'special needs.' These individuals are silently facing a new hurdle in this coronavirus pandemic-following mandates to ensure public safety, but personally fighting discomforts and confusion over new social norms.

Understandably, we all are adjusting to this new normal. But those on the  autism spectrum, with sensory processing disorder or sensitivities, and hard of hearing are having to quickly adjust to this new normal as well.

Those on the spectrum or with sensory sensitivities were or are undergoing therapy and programs from qualified professionals to learn social engagement and interactions. What comes naturally for most-like hugging a family friend and learning to shake hands without grimacing-is something technically learned and practiced in those with these unique needs. Ultimately through overexposure and practice, a person gradually desensitizes themselves and may appear comfortable in these social engagements over time.

On top of learning social interactions, there's another sensitivity that appear-especially with fabrics and clothing. As children with sensory sensitivities, a Clothing Tag or even denim can feel like sandpaper scraping against every skin cell on your body. Even if it's 'not a big deal' to most, those with this sensitivity quickly become frustrated, agitated, and a tantrum ensues.

Personally, as an adult who has the occasional occurrence of what I call my "Sensory Fits," the new normal of wearing face masks is difficult. Yes, I can rationalize and recognize its importance, but understanding the reason why doesn't mitigate my personal discomfort and internal battle.

While grocery shopping, I put on my face mask in the car and walked towards the store. For some strange reason, I caught myself holding my breath. Holding it-exhaling a little bit, but never fully inhaling. My breathing became irregular and obviously my heart rate increased. I took a moment-sat outside on a curb, and told myself 'Breathe' aloud and repetitively to force myself to breathe.

Somewhere with my sensory sensitivities the face mask told my body to 'Hold your breath,' as if it was helping me. But my experience, knowledge, and therapy knew that wasn't right. It was the iconic sensory battle-your body says "Freak out or shut down," when sensorily overwhelmed, but with therapy and practice your brain says "Hey, calm down-it's not so bad."

I was  fortunately in the position I could talk myself out of my 'sensory fit,' but many can't. However, all will be held to the same standard- a fine or verbal reprimanding by others if they remove the mask or pull the mask away to settle their discomforts.

Sure there are grocery pick-up services and Instacart to help avoid these situations-if you can afford it and get a time slot-but the competition for these services are incredibly high for everyone right now. It may not be entirely feasible.

On top of sensory sensitivities, for those hard of hearing they too are struggling. One of my hard of hearing peers expressed how much she relies on lip-reading. Sure she can talk and sign what she wants, but when a worker responds she finds herself asking 2 or 3 times "What did you say?" or "I can't hear you, what was that again?" And of course apologizing for not being able to hear.

Long story short, I'm worried.

I'm worried for everybody.

I'm worried for this minority population especially, those with unique needs. They now have to navigate a new normal when they were just understanding the old normal. They are navigating at a time in which therapy and programs cannot and have not helped them adjust to this.

They now have to adjust quickly with less assistance and less empathy than they ever have before.

The true irony of this, despite these new hurdles, this unique-needs population is more prepared for these new 'social' restrictions than anyone else. They are the only population that had to technically learn how to socially engage, and even though these times are confusing, I know they have the strength and experience to learn the new terms all over again.

I'm just not sure if the general population has the patience nor empathy to help them do so. And perhaps, that's my biggest worry.