Autism and Covid Lockdown: Impacts and the world reject hole
7th October 2020
There is much talk of mental health issues caused by restrictions that are being put on the population because of COVID-19, the ‘public health emergency’ and fear around a virus that was actually downgraded to the level of flu back in March.
Because of this, social support networks have been taken away from people. Grandparents have been denied access to their grandchildren. People have generally been prohibited from meeting up with friends and family.
This leads to a lack of social interaction. Face to face interaction is vital for most people’s mental health. That is why forced solitary confinement is seen as a very severe punishment.
Some people, including autistic people, are thriving in the ‘zoom environment’. However, others are becoming even more isolated as a result of current restrictions.
Autism affects individuals very differently, and I have recently met both a person with autism whose life has dramatically improved due to the new world, and one for whom it is very bad news…
The World Reject Hole
There is a kind of mental health problem that autistic people are prone to and which has for some, likely been even more exacerbated by the current restrictions: we call it ‘The World Reject Hole.’
The World Reject Hole is a ‘hole’ that people fall into when they feel that the world has rejected them.
Rejection is seen in the form of people not wanting to be friends with them, with being continually rejected for jobs. The response is to give up and stop trying. Many refuse to leave the house.
The problem is that the world around them then believe that these autistic people have simply rejected the world and have chosen to withdraw from it. It is extremely painful for those who care to watch someone give up and withdraw from the world.
The world reject hole is extremely difficult to get out of; it is extremely difficult to help someone in this position, partly because it looks like intractable anxiety.
All attempts at help are rebuffed with phrases like “Everyone looks at me when I go out”, “Nobody wants to employ autistic people”, “I am a freak”.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which attempts to give people a more positive outlook on life – to reframe thinking, is completely ineffective because to the autistic people the evidence points to their conclusions.
They have a point: throughout their life, their attempts at making friends have been rebuffed. They were bullied at school because they were different. They can point to statistics that say only 16% of autistic adults are in full time employment as evidence that employers are not interested in employing autistic people – and they are clearly in the 84% who won’t get a job!
So why does the world think these autistic people have rejected the world? Well, for a start, their attempts at making friends are not recognised as such.
This Vicious circle of world rejection is lack of understanding!
If autistic people cannot do the emotional reciprocity, (which is an essential part of social interaction), they can appear cold and uninterested in people.
Additionally, people are baffled when autistic people do not share common interests and instead want to talk about things that are not interesting at all such as how motorways are built, the beauty of a mathematic proof, or quantum physics, for example.
Many people who are not autistic do not understand when someone does not appear to be able to follow a conversation and instead go off on tangents that appear triggered by certain words and phrases. In fact, this often aggravates socially more able people.
The world does not understand when autistic people gain social satisfaction from shared activities, but have no desire to go off to the pub afterwards. In fact, many hate pubs – and do not realise that this is place where friendships are really developed and maintained.
The social and communication difficulties of autistic people make it difficult for them to build up a social network to help them through the tough times of life and to enjoy the easier times with them.
The problem is that the autistic people do not understand what is going on – and neither does the rest of the population.
Hence the withdrawal of the autistic person from the world, which eventually leads to more serious mental health difficulties.
Aspiedent can help
So far, nobody has really worked out how to help people who have fallen into the World Reject Hole. If they have not fallen in too far, we can help them out by helping them to understand themselves and the world around them. It also helps when we help the world around them understand the individual autistic person.
Prevention is much better than cure. A better understanding of why autistic people interact in the way they do is key to avoiding the misunderstandings that lead to someone falling into the world reject hole and being unable to find a way out.