COVID-19 Has Changed My Thinking About Opportunities for People with Autism

a guest blog post by Scott Badesch, ASF Board Chair, Former President, Autism Society of America

I am a proud member of the board of directors of the Autism Science Foundation.

I recently retired as the President/CEO of the Autism Society of America.  I have four adult children, one who is autistic, and a great son-in-law.   I also am a grandfather to the most precious grandson in the world.  My wife and I have been married for 36 years and before this crisis and even now living through this crisis, we know we are blessed in that we have each other, friends and family.  We have started a daily FaceTime call with our kids and grandson and we are actually talking with each other and not texting on our cell phones. 

Like everyone, I am scared and anxious. I see my retirement funds going down drastically and my planning for retirement never ever considered the impact of a global crisis.  I wonder if i will be able to leave retirement if I need to and find work when this is over. I also fear for the future of each of my adult children as well as my grandson. But I also see good coming ahead.

I hope we will get through this crisis with a better understanding of how we all are in this together.  And I think people are seeing that.  It’s what happens during a crisis. In crisis, people often put aside their hate and stereotype thoughts and just give a hand to a person in need.

Let’s admit it.  Before the crisis, we were not really good when it comes to valuing every person, especially individuals who are impacted by autism.  But today, it is different.  Globally, we are all dealing with the same thing. We now are assured that what happens anywhere else impacts us.  We need to start thinking that we are not defined by our geographic boundaries but the boundaries of what we call earth.  Our skin color, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation or sexual preference can no longer be the definition of who we are.  Rather we are all similar human beings.

I believe that as difficult as it is right now, we will come out of this crisis much better and I also strongly believe that people impacted by autism will be better off when we exit this crisis.   Today, we are all anxious, concerned about how we can find food for our meals, coping with being out of work, not knowing if work will be there for us and constrained by significant financial issues.  Heck, we are worried about finding toilet paper!   To so many autistic adults, what we are experiencing is unfortunately the life too many impacted by autism live each day. But I am optimistic about our future when it comes to helping autistic individuals in need. As a close friend said to me the other day, “I always have been blessed to have things come easy to me.  Now, they don’t. I am worried that I won’t have food to feed my family, dealing with high anxiety by everyone, and worried about my future unknown.”  He then said that he never has understood the difficulties that so many in need face, but now he has a sense of it and has to be responsive to it in the future. I think my good friend and millions of others will hopefully learn from all they are dealing with now and be more responsive to helping others in need when they return to whatever is defined as the “new normal.”

Our challenge is big but maybe it can start if everyone can get a mulligan and we all stop our hate and begin to listen to each other so we will come out of this as better human beings.  If we stop the denial of opportunities to too many, we can live in a global world where all are equal and included.  When someone has billions of dollars and there is a child who has to wake up in a car each morning; when an autistic young woman is denied access to a job because of an employer not understanding her skills and value; when an autistic person has to wait in some states eight or more years for basic services……maybe we really deserve this recheck.

We can’t fix the problems with the old solutions that if we are honest are temporary and often don’t work.  We must be bold and give all we deal with a rethink. Let’s rethink how we can appreciate our differences and need to be there for each other. Let’s put everything on the table.  Let’s realize that a person sleeping in a car doesn’t benefit from a bail out of the airline industry but we still have to allow commerce to start again. We owe the kid in the car a life of opportunity which can never occur if that kid uses the public swimming pool locker room as his family bathroom. We owe every person with autism the commitment that we will be there for him or her today and not promise we might be there tomorrow.  We owe every person impacted with autism every access to life’s opportunities.  And we owe our society’s help to every person impacted by autism who can benefit from such help.

What we learn from this will be what we can be after this is all over. I am optimistic that maybe, just maybe, we are in for a massive recheck of who we are and we will come out of this so much better. 

As I said, I am optimistic about our future!  On a personal basis, I know as a father of an adult son impacted by autism, that he has been denied opportunity because of the ignorance of others who decide simply because he is autistic he is not entitled to life’s opportunities. Prior to this crisis, I believed change came slowly and incremental advances were what might occur.  Today, I think we can make large changes and advance the wellbeing of everyone.