By John Innis
In 2020, COVID 19 turned our lives upside down and inside out. This was a universally shared, yet individually experienced reality. Universally shared, in that everyone’s daily lives had been impacted. Individually experienced, as we have learned is that two people can have very different ways of responding to and coping with the stressors that come with changes. One friend, a cancer-survivor, had not been out of her house in a year except to walk her dog for 10 minutes a day and is mostly miserable. Another friend, a computer programmer, tells me that his life has changed very little because he was always an isolator anyway. Personally, I experienced alternating periods of relative “ok-ness” and abject grief and all shades in-between. I know a number of individuals I support who prefer having the built-in rationale for isolation that the pandemic has afforded them! Everyone is different in their response.
But, wait...what is this feeling? It has seemed like such a long time since I’ve felt it this clearly...I do believe this is optimism. Guarded optimism, yes, but optimism nonetheless. I am pretty confident that it is not an oncoming train, but there is a light. And it is not just me feeling it. The data shows a clear and significant downward trend in new diagnoses, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID since the start of the pandemic. We now have 3 highly-effective COVID vaccines with more on the way and vaccine refusal is easing as availability is improving rapidly. . Things are looking up! I know that any number of variables could shift reality and my perception of reality in ways I don’t foresee. But as I write this, I am optimistic for the near-term and that feels nice.
Optimism is a construct that is related to resilience, the process of effectively negotiating, adapting to, or managing significant sources of stress and trauma. Resilience is a subject of much current research and is associated with Positive Psychology.
No two people have had the exact same responses to the onset of COVID and the restrictions imposed by it and no two people will necessarily have the same response as society makes its way back to “normal”. Yesterday, I got a call from a parent asking for my help in devising a set of strategies to “re-socialize” and “re-integrate” their son as the restrictions of the pandemic ease. I think it is smart to be thinking along these lines. This young man is extremely socially-motivated and is despondent that he can’t be in the physical presence of friends and acquaintances. Even though he does his best, Zoom is an inadequate substitute. Even so, in-person socializing is a challenge for him, sometimes leading to confusion, frustration and even physical confrontations. During quarantine, he has not experienced any of these challenges. In other words, a return to “normal”, while positive for him, is also a risk factor. It is complicated. It is complicated for all
of us, although in different ways.
What can be done to help the people we support in our work? Strategies shown to increase resilience include a) building problem-solving skills; b) enhancing
positive relationships with parents/caregivers/others; c) building upon a sense of
self-determination, improving motivation and positive thought processes; and d) optimal environmental factors. Resiliency skills can be learned and improved
upon, and the tenets of Positive Behavior Support address many of the factors.
Murray, C. (2003). Risk factors, protective factors, vulnerability,
and resilience: A framework for understanding and supporting
the adult transitions of youth with high-incidence disabilities:
RASE. Remedial and Special Education, 24(1), 16.