Autistic Adult Creates New Way of Life for Family During Pandemic

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This ongoing coronavirus pandemic certainly has brought life as we knew it to a standstill. People can’t get together in big groups (or even a dozen in a group); people are forced to work from home; restaurants are restricted to takeout orders; many socializing places like movie theaters, bowling alleys, parks, libraries, and shopping malls were forced to temporarily close; banks, grocery stores, and other shops have limited hours, and we’re all wondering when this is going to end and life will get back to something resembling “normal.” In the face of all these drastic changes, one young man with autism in New York has found a way to keep doing what he normally would do – and it has had a hopeful effect on his family and neighbors.

28-year-old Brian Tanner of Oriskany would normally spend every weekday attending the Fine Art Program at the ARC Oneida-Lewis Chapter in Utica. His mom, Maria, says he misses it greatly. To help deal with it, he has created something he calls “Brian’s Zoo”, a collection of artwork he’s been working on since March and Maria proudly displays it in her living room windows on Utica Street for everyone to see. She says she just came up with the idea from seeing the things people were posting on their own windows, and since Brian loves to draw, they started posting pictures of animals he drew and it took off. I hope Brian takes pride in his work there.

The response from people walking by and from people seeing photos of the artwork on Facebook has been overwhelming; Maria and Brian’s sister Allison say they enjoy the extra time they have with Brian but it was definitely an adjustment for him to be home and not be able to go out and see the people he would normally see every weekday. I know how that feels, but like everyone else, I’m trying to get by and find ways to pass the time.

Allison says it’s difficult for people with autism, especially severe autism, to get out of the routine they’re so used to doing every day. She says that now Brian starts his morning making a list of what to expect that day, starting with numbering big things expected throughout the day, like starting with breakfast, taking a walk, and having lunch so he has an idea of what to expect, so if he needs to make adjustments, he can look at the list and add in more numbers. Maria says the biggest tips she has for families with an autistic member is all about routine. Establish a routine and write down what you’re going to do that day to visualize it, but change is ok in a routine. So everyone keep that in mind while this is still going on – be open to the unexpected and be prepared to adjust. Try finding something you enjoy doing and work at it. Remember, this will be over someday, but in the meantime, expand your horizons and do what makes you happy.

Speaking of routine, it may become a routine for people in Oriskany who may be out for a walk to walk past the Tanner house at 1207 Utica Street (the family wanted to share their address), as long as they keep their social distancing. People say Brian enjoys it when people check out his work. So if you don’t live in their area, consider checking social media for pictures of his artwork. I think I might check it out myself.

Share what you are doing to keep yourself positive – I’ll be doing the same. Autism spectrum folks are maybe better equipped than others to create a satisfying inner world. There’s no better time to learn to be happy exactly where you are.