“You don't have to control your thoughts. You have to stop letting them control you.” – Dan Millman

Another side-effect of the longevity of COVID-19 in our world is heightened anxiety.  We all suffer from this to some degree, but for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders that may already be prone to anxiety, this can be debilitating.  A 24-hour news cycle that has focused on COVID-19 for years is bound to tap into anyone’s anxiety, but it also offers a unique opportunity to work on coping skills.  Social Stories™ offer a valuable way to explain that while we need to take precautions, we can leave our houses and continue to participate in life.  The number one way to calm anxiety is to continue in a routine.  While a venue or activity may be closed, we can look for and find substitutions that still allow for safe social interaction.  For example, church services may be cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19 locally.  However, there may be online options for participating in church services or an alternate activity can be identified to serve the same purpose.  Visiting a nearby grave of an ancestor may be another way to practice acknowledging a higher power or the hereafter.  Cemeteries are typically outside and usually not crowded or closed to visitors.  Learning about ancestors is a positive way of celebrating life and the common experiences of illness and death.  The importance of staying on a schedule should not be underestimated when it comes to dealing with anxiety for those with neurodevelopmental disorders.  Everyone has the need to understand why things have changed via an effective communication method (ie Social Stories™, videos, etc.) and when they can expect things to change “back to normal”.  It is easier to accept something changing in format than it is to accept it dropping out of your life all together.  Communications about expectations of “return to normal” need to be revised often as the pandemic continues to change.  It should also be made clear that this is what we think will happen, but it may not happen and if it does not it is OK because we have established alternative activities or avenues of participation that we can continue regardless.  You may have to look “outside the box” to find activities that work as alternatives, but they are not impossible to find.  The ability to leave the house and successfully complete a social activity is often taken for granted, but this ability can be compromised if we do not continue to participate in our routines.  Even without a pandemic, many individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders have become reclusive when they have been encouraged to stay at home with their screens for entertainment.  Prior to the pandemic, many individuals who have come into our programming have faced years without leaving their house regularly and the struggle to make themselves leave now can take years to achieve.  They know that they are happier, sleep better and feel better when they leave their house regularly, but making themselves do it has become a challenge in their lives.  Identifying alternate activities or learning to use preventative measures (ie masks, distancing, hand sanitizer) in order to participate is paramount to continuing to live a full, balance life.