By Christian Malatesta
This past year has not been easy for anyone, especially for someone like me who is living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). My name is Christian Malatesta, I am 25 years old, I have cerebral palsy, and was diagnosed with ASD at the age of five. Why was 2020 extremely difficult? The lack of social gatherings has posed a major challenge for many, nonetheless, having to social distance has taught me a lot about myself and my disability.
Challenges of COVID and Mental Health
There is a common belief that people with ASD are not social, however this is not the case. Many of us enjoy being around others and this year has been especially challenging because of the lack or limited social interaction available. Not everyone with ASD enjoys spending hours alone or on electronics. Being social means having support systems like your friends and family. With a smaller network of those with whom we can interact, being unable to attend school and with uprooted routines and structure to our days, our mental health is at an increased risk. In addition, the supports that are available are limited and the lack of face-face connection can increase our stress levels.
Supporting your Mental Health
There are many things that can be done to support your mental health during these unprecedented times. Adapting is not always easy, but it is necessary. I found out the hard way! I have been able to accept the fact that my social interactions need to look a little different. By seeing the friends that I can (e.g., wearing masks, driveway visits, etc.), and using safe platforms for social purposes (e.g., Autism Support Groups). A key to one’s healthy mindset includes being aware of traps that tend to draw you inward and keep you from doing all the things that are supportive to your mental health. Working out, meditating, reading, checking-in with professionals, focusing on hobbies, and my spirituality are ways that I have been able to reduce my stress levels and stay positive.
Learning to deal with the cards you are dealt
While learning to accept a disability can take years, 2020 and COVID catapulted me to face many realities. I may not always view the world with the same lens as others, however, being in the same storm as everyone else teaches you to accept everyone (including yourself) for what you are experiencing. I am getting better at learning to be patient and accepting of myself. You cannot accept others until you learn to accept yourself.
I wish for everyone to learn how to accept themselves as they are with all their beautiful flaws and not see them as weaknesses. Look inward, accept the challenges instead of fighting against them, and learn to rise above. Shifting your mindset from a negative one to a positive one is key.
Without COVID, I would not have had the time to do self-reflection and learn more about what my disability means to me. I know I still have many goals to reach, but I am confident that I will get there on my own time.