Lockdown and Autism: Diego’s Routine in Text Messages

Diego has handled the whole thing better than most

Young man smiling
Diego adapted quickly to social distancing

Put Diego, who’s 26 and autistic, in a new situation, and he’ll develop a routine in no time.

When he was a child, changes in routine triggered epic tantrums. This began to get better when his amazing special education teacher wrote a social story to help him understand change.

She titled it Today Is Different. If his bath time needed to be changed from before to after dinner, say, we’d introduce the momentous switch with: “Diego, today is different.”

In due course, Diego discovered that change is often a good thing. When it isn’t, he has learned to accept and work around it in his own special way. Specifically, his way involves creating lists and routines.

From the very beginning of the Coronavirus lockdown, it was clear to Diego that the change would last a while. Hence, he began to shape his quarantine routine early on.

The catch though, is that my husband and I (me especially) play a role in this routine. Not only is there a lot Diego needs help with, but he also wants to share his activities with someone, and we’re the only souls around.

Diego’s text messages are the best record of his quarantine experience and routine. During “normal” times, Diego texts me at least eleven times a day, but seeing that we’re now under the same roof 24/7, I didn’t expect he’d be texting me at all.

As it turns out, he’s texting me -and everyone else- more than ever. I often worry he may be driving people crazy and I keep reminding him to text others less. So far, though, only one person has asked me to please tell Diego to stop texting her so much. I told him and he stopped.

So, if you’re on  Diego’s daily texting list, don’t hesitate to let me know if you need a reprieve. I totally understand if, unlike me, you don’t find Diego’s frequent messages entertaining.

Here, then, is a sample of the dozens of texts I’ve gotten from Diego over the past three months. Diego writes phonetically and with help from word prediction technology. I thoroughly enjoy deciphering the spelling, even if I don’t always succeed. For those not used to reading special English, I’m translating the text into typical English.

Text message screenshot

Text messages from autistic adult

On Sundays, we must sort his meds, watch CBS Sunday Morning and drink iced tea. I must call my mom (Abuela) frequently or he’s not happy. Diego knows mothers and sons must call their moms. Everyday.

On weekdays, I must print coloring pictures. Two to three times a week, we run. We have names for the routes we take. Sometimes we go Richard’s way, because we run past Richard’s house.

We now bake once or twice a week too, and menu planning is important. In early April, it was settled that we’d have tacos for Cinco de Mayo, which we did of course.

On June 18, my last day of work, we’ll order out from Mc Duff’s. That’s been settled since last week.

My internal clock has shifted in quarantine, and a change Diego has definitely not welcomed is my waking up around 10:00 AM, as evidenced by his Wake up messages. This, by the way, is due to the fact that I must get my stuff done late at night.

My life is governed in large part by Diego. He’s pure and loving, but he sure is high-maintenance.

There’s obviously a lot that’s not in these texts. They don’t mention that Diego has taken on setting the table for lunch and dinner, taking out the trash, filling the pitcher in my bedroom with water, filling up and emptying the dishwasher.

He has also taken to singing Disney songs and to watching the news on the Spanish language network. Here’s a recent video of him singing “I can go the distance,” from Disney’s Hercules.

I give Diego immense credit. He still talks all the time about having a girlfriend, getting “twitterpated” (if you’ve watched Bambi, you may know this term means to fall in love) and getting married — his all-consuming dream. I know he misses his job at the soup kitchen, being with family and friends, going to the Y, participating in all his special activities.

But not once has he complained about the epidemic and quarantine.

Videos and text messages released with Diego’s permission.

A version of this post was originally published in the Medium publication Illumination.

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