Jean Murray

What a wonderful gift it is to be able to move inside the normal narrative. To be able to mix among one’s peers and begin a conversation.  A logical conversation that can flow with ease from the topic of relavence, to the topic of trend. It gives one the option of inclusion, regardless of the fact that sometimes a disagreement may threaten one’s popularity. A person who has this natural awareness of speech and language is alert to when a topic has gone off course by the receptors body language and facial expression and can therefore detour from the topic and save oneself from being brandished at the very least diffferent or at worse, crazy. Most people like to come away feeling confortable after a new interaction and conversation with their peers. One would like to feel a sense of accomplishment. This helps feed one’s sense of self and esteem. When a person with social difficulties attemps at conversation and fails, this feeds their sense of disappointment and causes them anxiety.  Their alertness to when the topic should change are often off keel and their ability to reach inside their brain through their often complex processing lobe is slow and tiresome. This leads them to withdraw and find comfort inside their own mind that makes them laugh or smile to themselves.

There are various levels of social difficulties in children and young adults. Most people outside the family unit may not notice a child is having any problems with interaction as these children learn to hide their awkwardness, often by staying quiet. A child with social awkwardness finds it difficult to engage in constructive play from the very onset of their development. Their organising and planning in play can be very destructive and messy or extremely organised. This view inside a child’s brain can show a psychologist how a particular child’s brain works and what level of ability the child has, while the parent will experience first hand the emotional and anxiety problems the child has in the home. I head back momentarily to the point where everybody likes to feel ‘a sense off accomplishment’ after a conversation or an interaction, so too does the child who has this expressive difficulty. Parents often witness the sadness of their child in the home when their disappointment causes them to hurt themselves or favour their own company as it’s easier. Children with these difficulties are often diagnosed as being on the Spectrum of Autism.

This year when COVID came into our lives in March 2020, has been a very difficult and challenging time for any child who is on the Spectrum of Autism. The lock down and issolation is contrary to the emotional needs of this child. I’m sure every parent in Ireland found it extremely difficult during the closure of schools, to help their children in education and leisure with the limited resources of the parent, whether one had a child on the Spectrum or not. I know that I found it to be a fulltime job to take on the role of the teacher as well as trying to meet the emotional, social and physical needs of my daughter. Despite the previous six months workload, relief, was not an emotion I felt on the news that the children would return to school in September. As the information slowly leaked out that masks and social distancing were going to be the requirements for all children going into secondary schools, my heart sank. Without any psychology degree, but with a Master’s in parenting a child on the Spectrum of Autism, I knew that these new measures were going to disable any social and literal education for my child, and many other children. In my research of COVID 19, I have discovered there is no scientific evidence for the necessity of masks or social distance in schools.  I know for a fact that our Department of Education and Health know this too. If there was any evidence at all in relation to these masks preventing a child from catching a Virus of any sort, they would be mandatory in primary schools too, which they are not. Thank God for small mercy’s!

So picture this, a teenager in puberty, who is going through lots of bodily and emotional changes without cognitive disorders. They may be able to battle throught these restrictions and get an education. They may be able to sneak words to each other through their masks and across the two meters distance. They may meet at lunch and laugh and joke over a sandwich at the madness of it all. They may be able to meet inside the toilet with their friends and take selfies and giggle as they share their secret of disobedience.

Now picture my child and others like her on the Spectrum of Autism. Going through all the same growing changes, but locked inside her mask. She doesn’t have the quickness to grab secret words of conversation through the mask. The two meter distance will make it impossible for her to search for a friendly or an interested face to run to the toilet with. She’ll concentrate hard as she focus’s her attention on eating her sandwich at lunch as if she’s really enjoying herself in her own company as she listens to her peers chat and laugh around her. But because her processing is slow, she can’t keep up, so she withdraws. It takes special people to be aware of another’s difficulties and keep them included. She’ll look at funny memes on her phone to distract her from her loneliness. But above all it is truly difficult for my child to get an education from a teacher with a visor that muffles their sound and reduces my daughter’s concentration even more. It will inevitably prevent my daughter and yours from asking the teacher questions in class. Don’t think these new social restrictions will only effect children with learning difficulties. These masks are here to fiter out the super smart from the not so smart. Is this what this new education is really about? Dumbing our children down? Because it’s obvious to me and I’m sure to you also, the mask only serves one purpose. To make social and verbal interaction so difficult  that only the fittest will survive.

Jean Murray

The Isolation of children in Masks