COVID-19 continues to sweep not only the nation but the world, and the special needs population faces particular challenges. I admit I didn’t understand the magnitude of this pandemic until just recently.
I am an athlete leader and global ambassador for the Special Olympics, and a few months ago, I received an email from the northern California Special Olympics president.
He shared the news with athletes, coaches, and supporters that due to the effects of the coronavirus, our summer games and various competitions would have to be canceled until further notice. As a person with autism, I know we see the world differently.
Many of us see the world as a largely happy place, when in reality the world has taken a shift. It’s one those moments in life when we wish we could push “pause” and even prevent it from taking place.
As I continued to process the situation I had just stumbled upon, I continuously read the email about three times to make sure I comprehended correctly.
Learning about the cancellation of the summer games was like being punched in the gut and getting the wind knocked out of you. For the first few days, confusion set in; for me it was a feeling of numbness.
A few athletes called me and asked me to explain what was going on, and to be honest with you, I didn’t have an answer for them. I told them as best as I could that, “We just have to wait and see what happens.”
A few weeks later, another email suggested we make videos showcasing our talents to share on the Special Olympics Facebook page. I became very excited.
This was a way we could encourage other athletes who might be feeling isolated, afraid, and confused during the shelter-in-place order. I wanted to take this time to make a difference in the lives of those who may feel lost.
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After making some encouraging videos where I came up with a variety of ways for athletes to stay healthy while at home, I expanded my practice to include card writing. I called it “Cards for Quarantine.”
I wrote my fellow athletes a quick card just saying hello and encouraging them to stay strong.
I heard back from some of them that the cards made all the difference when they felt alone. My idea caught the attention of Women in Sports and Events (WISE), and I was able to give a speech and read some uplifting poetry for them.
The month of April was soon approaching, and as we know, April is Autism Awareness Month. It also just so happens to be Poetry Month. I decided to write autism-themed poetry that I could share with different autism groups. I was able speak again, this time for Touro University for Autism Acceptance day. I read my poem Dear Autism:
How are you today? There are so many things that make you great.
There are so many things I want to say. I wish I could control you better and keep you at bay
Why did you trigger me? He was just trying to be my friend; instead, you made him frighten me.
It was just a hug. Instead of embracing it, you made me run.
Why did you put me through this? I wanted to be his friend and not question the friendship.
One final thing, to protect me from him and to keep me safe, he decided to no longer be my friend.
The girl who wishes we could have been friends.
I also had the honor of being featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and Capital Public Radio to share my poetry. On both programs, I read a poem called Together We Can:
Together We Can
Together we can conquer anything.
Together we can rise.
Together we can spread joy.
Together we can spread love.
Together we can shine.
Together we can make a difference.
Together we can make change.
Together we can empower.
Let’s do this together, keep social distance, wash your hands, heal this pandemic, and be all together again.
I used my newfound time to show the world we are much bigger than the coronavirus. And if we stand strong, we can conquer anything. I’ve even written my own poetry series specifically aimed at remaining positive during the pandemic.
What’s most important to remember is the human heart is bigger than any pandemic. I would also encourage you to take the time to reach out to those on the autism spectrum who may not understand what this world is going through. Friends and families of those with autism all need to continue to love and support each other during this time.
It is the act of love that’s going to help us heal this pandemic and heal the world.
This article was featured in Issue 107 – Caring for Your Autism Family