Autism in the time of COVID-19

The following is a blog written by one of our readers, Ms. Claudia Mazzuco. Ms.Mazzucco is a writer, researcher, historian, editor and teacher of the history of golf. She was born in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, and was diagnosed with autism in the summer of 2001 in London. Claudia is an advocate of the notion that it is worth knowing the differences between the symptoms of possible autism and problem behaviors that look like autism but they are not. At the root of a spectrum that keeps getting bigger and bigger, she concluded, is the tendency in American society to categorize an increasing array for normal childhood reactions to stressful life situations as proof positive of a neurological disorder. She supports very strongly scientific research, both for curing autism and helping individuals with Asperger to find acceptance and integration.

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The lockdown has given my autistic self a brilliant idea: social distancing. But the spirit still matters even in a pandemic crisis.

As a person with autism, I endured all my life the ultimate in social distancing. When social distancing became the law, I was altogether enamored of this part of the crisis. Society was not fashionable any more. Autism has been given the thing it always wanted: the chance to reject community. I just adjusted nicely.

Then the excitement was all over. My joy was diminished by the suspension of daily masses and weekend worship at the Catholic Church. My community has gone into hidden and I could no longer go to church as I liked. Nothing about this was right. I felt like I was staring at the world upside down.

A cancelled Easter was unthinkable. Awareness was called for.

All my life I found in the church a haven, a place of acceptance and redemption. It is quite difficult for me to accept that I can’t enter the building these days. This is perhaps the most astonishing prohibition in the crisis. It is a tragic irony of the pandemic that in the times when we most needed to worship, the doors of the church were closed.

People with autism adore social distancing.

When Time Stopped

The problem with suspending masses was that there were ninety days before Palm Sunday when it happened. The journey was interrupted, and what makes me angry is that it didn’t have to be that way. Holy Week binds us to reconnect with the holy, the elevated, the spiritual within us. Ash Wednesday is a day of penitence marking the beginning of Lent, a journey of 40 days to Good Friday and Easter. Lent is a pilgrimage of preparation for death and resurrection both of Christ and ourselves. It comes to an end at sundown of Thursday on Holy Week. As twilight turns to night, the church around the world enters into the holiest time of the year. It is the Passover of the Lord. We celebrate Holy Week with carefully planned liturgies, penance services, and by preparing an Easter welcome-home to everyone, including those who only come to Church that day. All of us are guests in the house of the Lord. I am sure the entire church felt the same way. It is not simply about spirituality. It has to do with performing all the rituals.

In the liturgy of Holy Thursday we remember the Last Supper. When Jesus said to the apostles “Do this in remembrance of me,” he left to the church a new Covenant. When we read the long Passion narrative twice during that week, we are trying to understand the brutality of the cross, its gross unsuitability as an object of religious reverence. On Good Friday we recapitulate the Passion of Jesus. By way of such review, I am in a position to become a witness. It does not come about automatically. It requires attentiveness. I am not merely listening to it. I am with the community, placing myself within it, and at the same time representing the struggle and agony of the disciples who were actually there. I thrive the whole year on that. It is my little one-on-one with the Lord. What happened after that is a strong sense of unity with the congregation.

Remember is a key word in the Bible. To remember Gethsemane on Thursday night is not to be afraid because after the darkness there will always light. On Good Friday, I know that I can follow through on that journey that began on Ash Wednesday. Such a ritual is one that we cannot do virtually.

When Covid-19 interrupted the journey on March 17, the ritual of Good Friday never happened. Jesus’s death is such a central feature of the Christian story that if the rituals are cancelled, the effect is paralyzing. It is about more disruption that as a person with autism I can handle. Scriptures seem not to resonate any longer. There is a clear disconnect now between the Church and me. The dissociation is so great that in actual fact it has deprived the cross of its spiritual significance. I didn’t want to do that. But what struck me is that the cross is once again a shocking event, an instrument of torture, the most irreligious thing that ever was. It is no longer compatible with the resurrection. The connection is crucial because Christian hope is based on the resurrection.

The Great Pause

I grew up in Argentina and educated as a Catholic there. Autism might be a social incompetence, but I had unquestionably made a terrific progress as part of a Catholic community in Harford, CT. But now the feeling of fellowship has been lost perhaps even before I quite realized it. I was jolted back into reality without the remotest knowledge of how this crisis happened, nor the smallest instinct about when it would end.

At last there was no way to avoid losing all my social skills. That makes everything look different all of a sudden. Unlocking my brain is out of the question until Palm Sunday. That is why I felt it was better to extend the social distancing restrictions until March 28, Palm Sunday, 2021. Starting from today, I have just to take it slowly. And prepare for a long journey ahead. I think that, in the end, things will work out all right.

 

2 responses to “Autism in the time of COVID-19

  1. At first, I also adapted quickly to the new regimen. However, I noticed that I did also miss out on a lot of things that I liked, such as walking to the store, meeting with friends anywhere I want, and eating out at restaurants.

    It is really interesting reading about your religious views and commitment. I hope that your sense of religious well-being will return to the way that it was.

    Finally, I am really worried about the recent protests, as they have the great potential to spread COVID really far.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Yuvall,

      I had not the least idea what was going on in the world. It is impossible to inquiry into what was unknown since I did not know what to look for. I turned in on myself and become uncommunicative. I am not reachable right now. The lockdown has pulled me away. Words or actions would be either superfluous or harmful. I will need to rebuild my world, reduced to a size I can handle. What happened when the brain locked itself (or autism locked it) has nothing to do with religion as such. Obviously, there is a hole in the memory of this year but is not a hole that blew straight my experience of the Church. The year felt lost, as if the center of the Liturgy has been removed.

      Like

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