In recent weeks, more and more discussion and media coverage has focused on the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions and the return to day-to-day everyday life. For many of us, this transition, and a return to daily life can begin to arouse different feelings, thoughts and concerns. Members of our Insight Group identified ‘transitions’ and the transition out of ‘lockdown’ as an area of concern.

On this page, Researcher and Occupational Therapist, Claire I. Gleeson discusses how autistic adults can try to manage the transition from lockdown to more open environments that may be difficult from a sensory and social perspective.

To help direct Claire's article, we asked our Insight Group members to let us know if they have any concerns about transitions after lockdown.

I’m genuinely terrified about doing anything in public again.

What are transitions?

The term “transition” refers to the process or a period of change from one situation to another situation, or as we move from one scenario to another scenario. We make lots of different transitions everyday within our routines and our lives. Transitions can be both big and small. Big transitions in life can refer to moving from secondary school to university or from being unemployed to being employed. Smaller transitions are times within our day when we switch from one activity to another; such as being in bed to getting up and getting dressed, or leaving the house to go shopping, to engage in leisure activities or to go college.

Going back to work - I struggle in the office and working from home means I don't have to mask for the whole day and deal with bright lights/chatter.

Returning to work in an office, especially after having zero people contact for so long.

Understanding transitions

Some transitions can be easier to manage but some can also be discomforting and disruptive. During the Covid-19 pandemic, people spent a long period of time staying at home and self-isolating, where they created and developed new routines and a new structure for their everyday life.

For many, a sense of safety and comfort was established in these new routines. We were required to transition and adapt to these new routines when Covid struck and this took time, effort and getting used to. However, now that the lockdown and restrictions are easing, we are being asked yet again to transition and adapt to a new routine and structure whereby social distancing and public health measures require us to interact and engage in a different way. Now, we are starting another transition, which can feel uncomfortable and uneasy. Opening our front door and moving back to society is a genuine concern for many.

Losing the peace and quiet.

Being among large crowds. Where the office is, it's a busy city centre. It's not the virus - it's the sensory aspect of crowd, smells, noise etc

Managing the Transition

To support us and prepare ourselves in making the transition and adapting to new routines, structures, and practices post-pandemic, we must begin to think about what we are transitioning to. This will be different for everyone and everyone’s circumstances are different. Some people will be transitioning and adapting from their home to re-integration and re-engagement in their community, while others will be returning to participate in education or work.

It can be useful to do a pen and paper exercise and to write down exactly what environments or routines you will be transitioning and returning to. Consider what are the potential challenges and opportunities that this presents to you.

For example:

Potential challenges returning to work after working from home for a few months:

  • Managing and navigating public transport
  • The need to wear a face mask
  • Getting used to returning to the work environment where the sensory aspects may create challenges (i.e. noises, smells, people etc).

Potential benefits of returning to work:

  • Increased levels of productivity
  • A more established sense of routine.

By doing this exercise, you can then identify and develop strategies and solutions that may support you in making this transition back to work. You will have many solutions and strategies that you may have used in the past. It will be important to try and implement these again. Remember, if they have worked in the past, then it will be important to use them again.

To help with the change, it can also be useful to try and set small daily targets for yourself and to increase the steps that you take as you begin to enter the bigger world.

For example:

  • Many people will not have left their house or front garden for a number of months. Going outside your front door and into your community will be a big transition.
  • On day one, decide to walk to the front door. On the next day, set the target to walk to the footpath. On the following day, set the target to walk to the end of a specific road or walk to your nearest corner. Establishing these targets and trying to achieve them will support you in a graded manner to make transitions for yourself.

Hints and tips

Develop a ‘roadmap’

Try and develop a ‘roadmap’ or plan for yourself as you make a transition:

Acknowledge and note what the transition is

Identify the challenges associated with the transition

Recognise what the potential opportunities are

Note and document some solutions and strategies to mitigate or lessen the challenges

Set small targets and goals to support you to make the transition.

Get support

Use your support network to help talk about and manage the transition. Remember that many people will be experiencing and going through this transition to the world post Covid and they can provide some support and guidance. It can be a time to enter into conversations with friends, family and employers to discuss new ways and approaches that will support you in managing the transition.

Celebrate and acknowledge achievements

This isn’t easy, so reward yourself as you make move through the transition.

Useful reminders...

It’s ok to find this difficult.

Transitions can be discomforting and unnerving, remember that it’s ok and it is understandable to have genuine concerns about transitions. It takes time to become familiar and comfortable in new situations, so be compassionate, kind and patient with yourself. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

You haven’t failed or wasted effort.

Pre-lockdown, you may have worked very hard to build comfortable routines and independence. If you have had to stop your routines or move in with family for support, it does not mean that your hard work has gone to waste or that you didn’t work hard enough.

You’ve done this before.

Remember the times you’ve successfully navigated a previous transition. As you face a new challenge with entering a new world following the Covid-19 pandemic, remember to try and use the knowledge and strategies that you’ve managed to cope before to drive you forward.