Your Lax Social Distancing Is Stressing Out Autistic People – Carol Greenburg
“What I cannot bear is the sight of all these seemingly ordinary, sensible people flouting life-or-death rules. When I get home, and calm down enough for my spoken or written language to fully return, I can process my confusion and fury with complaints. My son can’t, though.”
The above article popped into my consciousness this morning as I was reflecting on finding Clement Space, what that means to different people, and how we can learn something from everyone, even if we do not agree with them. Finding differences is, to me, a discovery of Self juxtaposed with Other, and trying to smooth out the crinkles, even if ‘common ground’ may not be achieved, at least there may be a nod of understanding.
It’s not just broken rules that irk me, I have been known to break rules myself, though I generally prefer staying within safe boundaries. No, for me, it is the stress of my already fragile and tenuous ‘wellness’ being constantly threatened and disregarded by people who have no care or no knowledge about simple, basic personal hygiene and space.
COVID19 ‘social-distancing’ measures are in place in almost every country around the world. The situation is escalating into frightening dimensions. In urban Singapore, where life revolves around bustling commerce, where capitalism rules triumphant and controls every breathing organism in the city, and where ‘normality’ means crowded malls, noisome soundscapes, and steaming stench of human perspiration mixed with various forms of air pollution, all juxtaposed with sparkling buildings and impressive skyscrapers, it is almost impossible to maintain comfortable personal space. I’ve been appalled, deflated, intrigued and distraught, riding the mental-emotional roller-coaster while musing on this: it seems to me that most people just don’t seem to comprehend disease control and personal space. Even though these measures are now being blasted loudly on the news, television and radio, even though authorities mandated public spaces to create well-marked demarcations and obvious barriers to keep people at least one metre apart, and limiting numbers of people allowed in malls or shops at any one time etc., Singaporeans are either oblivious or blasé.
Do people even realise that the one or two metre rule is insubstantial as it is? This particular virus is more aggressive and virulent than anything known before. I’ve been gathering information on COVID19 in typical autistic style. A few other autistic friends of mine around the world are doing the same. It is alarming and hugely unsettling for us autists, yes, because most of us are drawn to recognise patterns, and we are all enveloped inside the burden of observation with no power to effect quick and vigorous change. A few studies are showing that this coronavirus can travel farther than our distancing measures allocate, and can linger in the air for a longer time than was thought before. Here is the latest article among the ones I’ve read on this:
‘Two metres not enough’ when social distancing’
“But a new analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US has found that viral droplets expelled in coughs and sneezes can travel in a moist, warm atmosphere at speeds of 10-30 metres (33ft-100ft) per second, creating a cloud that can span approximately 7-8 metres (23ft-27ft).
The researchers also warn that droplets can stay suspended in the air for hours, moving along airflow patterns imposed by ventilation or climate-control systems.
Virus particles have already been found in the ventilation systems of hospital rooms of patients with coronavirus, which the team believes could have been carried on “turbulent clouds” of air.”
Scientists said the research had implications for both the public and healthcare workers, who may not realise they need to wear protective equipment even when they are not in proximity to an infected patient.
Emphases in bold added by me. I am becoming more and more excruciatingly anxious and stressed just observing the non-action of the ‘normal’ social majority, a peculiarly Singaporean kind of parochial rebellion against a deadly and aggressive but invisible force that has the entire world in its grip. It’s the “bochup” attitude rearing its ugly head – deliberately ignoring the gravity of a situation, an almost perceivable gesture of tossing out whatever little good sense they may possess. Sometimes, when casually chatting with some acquaintances and even friends here, I feel a tinge of resentment, as if disobeying the authoritative directives on social distancing and other precautions is an understated, suppressed and repressed form of rebellion. Perhaps? But yet, perhaps not. I may be giving my them more credit than is due.
Why so impenetrable? What’s the attraction in jamming bodies together, smelling each other’s odiferous emissions and tacky, sticky textures? To me, so-called “distancing” is my idea of simple good social manners. Nothing “distant” about it except for the fact that staying at least one metre (or more is fine) away from me while socialising or walking or standing in a queue etc. really helps me draw much closer in heart and mind to the other person/s than apart, because I am able to interact in a relaxed space, without heightened sensory anxiety from the smells emanating from human bodies (including my own), and without literally feeling saliva droplets spewing from the mouths of people talking and settling on my face. Blame it all on autistic hypersensitivity and an immunocompromised body, maybe. But is this anomaly really an impairment or a deficit of social consciousness? Or is it a heightened sense of what it ought to be?
SARs brought Hong Kong literally to its knees. Following that, Hong Kong society changed in the way people approached basic hygiene and public conduct. Yes, the crowds still thronged, and personal space is a luxury that the majority of Hong Kong people simply cannot afford, but the people improvised. Why am I so pro-masks? It’s not about COVID19 at all. We all now know that even the N95 is not foolproof against this virus. And WHO and the like have been vigorously telling us all to ditch the masks – giving different reasons, though the most important is so that those who need it most at the frontline may have enough. Yet, we know they do not have enough anyway – because their various governments have been slack in their provision. So, why am I still waffling on and on about the wretched things? You see, even on a ‘normal’ day, being immunocompromised, the danger of my catching some kind of infection is high. These may be innocuous to the ordinary person but quite horrifying for me if it unpacks inside my system. This is why I appreciate the practice that most people in Hong Kong have adopted since SARs: wearing surgical masks. Some wear them to try and prevent infection, others for filtering out as much pollution as possible, and of course, people wear them when they are sick, as a consideration to others, to prevent their own germs from spreading and so as not to appear all drippy-nosed and disgusting. Hong Kongers are a lot more fastidious about their appearances than Singaporeans. In truth, there is no perfect protection against virulent disease, us humans just need to be sensible, considerate and vigilant – for ourselves, and for everyone else. I am still terrified of crowds, and living in Hong Kong was indeed sensorially challenging for me. But I feel more comfortable when out with my Hong Kong friends, compared to being with Singaporeans, because they practice awareness at a level that Singaporeans either are oblivious about or openly mock as ridiculous or paranoid. My friends in Hong Kong won’t bat an eyelid if I turned up at a gathering with a surgical mask on. In fact, I might not even be the only one there donning protective attire. The last time I had lunch with my best friend and her family, her husband turned up wearing a surgical mask underneath a stylish black covering, and made sure he sat away from me, because he’d woken up that morning with a sore throat. He knew I am immunocompromised so he was making sure as far as he could that I will not be affected by his condition. Now, this is the comfortable ‘normality’ for me. just knowing these habits have become the new collective norm made the squish of human bodies that much easier to bear. And I feel much more cared for, considered and respected by my friends in Hong Kong than those in Singapore.
Compared to Hong Kong, Singapore enjoys a lot more space. Concrete space, as well as green space smack in the middle of the city. If Hong Kongers could adapt and change in the aftermath of SARs, why can’t we we do the same? Or are we so much less flexible of mind and spirit? When this pandemic is over, I hope ‘normal’ people in Singapore would learn a few good hygiene tips from us ‘abnormal’ people, perhaps? Sadly… I doubt it of Singaporeans, but I can still hope, can’t I? Miracles can and do happen.