Our world changed in the blink of an eye. Arenas became empty, traffic disappeared overnight and millions stopped interacting with one another — all in an effort to keep each other safe and protect our way of life.
As this time of social distancing continues, many are beginning to feel the effects of social isolation, unable to visit the places that bring them joy or see their friends and loved ones. Social isolation can be a dangerous thing. It can strip you of your defenses and leave you vulnerable to your emotions.
But this social isolation will not last. Our world will slowly begin to open up again. Friends will be able to get together, loved ones will be able to see each other and venues all over the world will be filled. Hopefully, we will forget what this time even felt like.
Unfortunately, for those living with sensory needs and invisible disabilities, this social isolation is a normal way of life. For them, there is no return to the way things were.
Going out can not only be overwhelming to the senses, but also physically painful. The stigma towards those with invisible disabilities, chalking up behavior quirks to substance abuse problems or bad manners, only adds to the difficulty in social engagement, thus increasing their isolation.
So how do we change this? How do we help everyone reconnect once this period of social distancing is over?
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We must embrace sensory inclusion.
One in 5 individuals have a disability, with 80 percent of that population having an invisible disability, such as PTSD, autism or dementia. One in 6 individuals have a sensory need, representing one of the largest growing demographics in our world today.
Sounds, crowds, lights and even certain smells are not just physically overloading, but also physically painful. This leads to the social isolation that many of us now understand — a social isolation not by choice, but by circumstance.We can make the world accessible for so many people through sensory inclusion. Training, tools and preparation help create greater empathy, giving folks a better understanding of those with sensory needs and invisible disabilities.
With simple modifications, we can make community spaces and events accessible, helping people with sensory needs feel accepted and included.
We can break down the barriers of social isolation. Folks with sensory needs and invisible disabilities should never again feel ostracized and singled out for their behavioral coping mechanisms.
This World Autism Day, as we all stay home and practice social distancing, embrace the social isolation. Understand it. This is the reality that so many people and families live with in our country today.
We can change. This World Autism Day, let’s promote autism inclusion and end social isolation for everyone by embracing sensory inclusion.
Dr. Julian Maha is the co-founder of KultureCity, a non-profit founded to create acceptance and inclusion for all individuals with unique abilities.
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