National Autism Month in April coincided with our strictest phase of lockdown. My son, 36, who has Asperger’s, has consequently been unable to stick to all his routines — one being the Sunday car boot sale on Brighton Racecourse — and I was worried about how he’d cope.
He suggested we watch classic EastEnders together from our separate homes and text each other about the personalities and plot. It worked. The episodes from the early 1990s are fast-moving and the characters very real. One scriptwriter then, Susan Boyd, born in Glasgow, hung out with the Jamaican community in Ladbroke Grove in the 1970s. She died at only 55. I looked up her obituary. ‘The woman comes across as unassuming and unmaterialistic and also very talented. Son.’
Like others with his condition, though, my son is unable to stop some of his Asperger’s routines. He is taking buses to Asda as he did before coronavirus, instead of shopping locally. He could be endangering himself and the young carers who come in part-time, but he can’t stop. He doesn’t seem frightened of getting the virus — but would it be worse if he was full of anxiety about it?
Most parents of autistic children, and the children themselves, are finding this situation difficult. I talked to the mother of a 15-year-old who is, she says, ‘profoundly autistic’. He has ‘pockets of brilliance’ in maths, reading and music, can speak five languages and reads fluently — but doesn’t understand what he’s reading and can’t answer what his name is, his age or where he lives. He would go off with a stranger if they had something he wanted and can be violent if upset. She has three other boys.
Last year, she and her husband nearly bankrupted themselves in a court case with the local council over funding, after finally locating a school that suited their son.