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Coronavirus: Helping Those With Autism During Lockdown

April 26, 2020

Like so many people with autism, lockdown rules have only added to the challenges Matthew Russell faces.

A trip to McDonald’s or the local pub had not only become a treat, but a key part of a settled weekly routine.

However, the coronavirus outbreak has taken away those routines, causing distress and anxiety for many.

So staff at an autism centre in south Wales have come up with ideas to help maintain structure, including a replica drive-through burger restaurant.

Support workers at Glamorgan House in Neath were eager to help those with autism get through the restrictions.

With the help of a local McDonald’s restaurant that was closed during the lockdown, staff sourced packaging and cups for an authentic experience as well as making their own uniforms by hand.

“As soon as we began serving up meals there were smiling faces all around and orders were flying in,” said senior support worker Abbie Williams.

It is reassuring for the parents of the 20 people who normally use Glamorgan House every day, including Catherine Russell, of Cardiff, whose son Matthew, 41, has been visiting the centre since it opened in 2004.

“Matthew likes to go to McDonald’s and also the pub for his tea once a week but he’s not able to do those things anymore,” she said.

“It’s difficult because he really needs to have his routines and keep to the same things. So it’s lovely that the staff are doing this under really difficult circumstances.

“It’s amazing they’re keeping them happy and are able to continue their routines, even when everything is changing. Matthew is really enjoying it.”

The burger bar drive-through is just the latest idea from the staff, which have already included an ice-cream parlour and pick ‘n’ mix sweet stand.

Glamorgan House offers help and support to autistic people as well as providing a place to socialise and and study in an environment similar to a college.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) said changes to routine, the sensory challenges of increased handwashing and the general anxiety of the pandemic can have a significant effect on those with autism.

“Many of the autistic people we support can feel anxiety about change or unexpected events and that is particularly the case at the moment,” said Nick Haake, of NAS Cymru.

“The staff cross all of our services have been amazing during this difficult period and have taken extraordinary steps to limit the impact that unexpected changes are having on the people they are supporting.”

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