The world is in unprecedented turmoil with the need to stay at home and live and work among the same group of people 24/7, a foreign concept to many of us. With no foretelling of when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, some are experiencing heightened anxiety as a result of a dramatic shift in routine. For others, a feeling of claustrophobia and annoyance creep in. Every day largely feels the same.
At this point, most of us are vying for a change and longing to develop a meaningful routine for ourselves, some of us need to develop programs for our children, all while attempting to balance a never-ending list of responsibilities.
Since 2018, Christina Hovatter, program manager of Urban Autism Solutions (UAS),has composed and managed meaningful routines for residential and vocational clients alike. At Project 1212, Urban Autism Solutions' residential space in Chicago for young adults with autism and related conditions, Christina helps residents manage their schedules, navigate their feelings, and teaches them how to co-exist in a house filled with others. She also strives to create a robust series of outings and social activities that every 20-something-year-old would enjoy. “Our clients like everything everyone else does,” says Christina. Movies in the park, festivals, urban hikes, social events, and food festivals are just some of the many activities Christina plans for residents. Even under typical circumstances, leading this type of operation is tough, but with a stay-at-home order controlling day-to-day activities, residents who thrive off of consistency are being robbed of their regular routines and lifestyle. Clients cannot go to work, museums, restaurants, or visit their favorite local shop, like the comic book store.
However, Hovatter is no stranger to creating a plan of action amongst the chaos.
"Every day I have a plan, and every day I need to be flexible with that plan for the sake of the clients," says Christina. Although adjusting to a new normal is challenging, she says that flexibility in response to unexpected problems is all part of the job and something she embraces.
"I get the frustration, and I completely empathize with the confusion," she explains, "I think this is a meaningful opportunity for all of us to utilize creativity and implement patience and understanding for others in our immediate space. I always ask our clients, is this a teaching moment? This [current pandemic] certainly is."
So, what can the average Joe learn about constructing a meaningful routine, specifically during an unexpected quarantine, from a program manager that helps young adults with autism? Christina understands that everyone's individual circumstances may be different. She also knows from experience that these points of action can help create an environment that is more enjoyable, productive, and harmonious.
1. Get to know those around you
“A strength of mine is really being able to know the clients,” says Christina, "Our model is designed to be person-centered. Clients are not just a file in some locked drawer. We know our clients, their personalities, their needs, and their personal barriers." Christina stresses that making the effort to understand the pain-points and the interests of those around you will help you build a routine that is enjoyable for everyone.
2. Create a physical weekly schedule
"Taking it day by day is easy for some, for others, this might be a completely foreign concept, and having this break in routine can feel paralyzing. Every Monday, after I've planned a series of events, I write the schedule on a large whiteboard for our clients to see while they’re sitting at the breakfast table. Being able to physically see the highlights or special points of the week, like karaoke hour or Zumba class, is helpful. We schedule that time and clients and residents both participate and have fun. Those events or activities are sacred for us all. Families, roommates, and homes where there is a lot of foot-traffic can utilize this practice to implement a sense of direction and boost productivity in the week to come. Everyone wants something to look forward to. Earlier this month, our executive director, Heather Tarczan, offered a webinar about creating a schedule and more importantly following it daily and not giving yourself an excuse. She encouraged people to treat every weekday like it was before the pandemic. Get up, take a shower, put your clothes on and get moving.
3. Don’t over-schedule
During this time there may be an overwhelming desire to overschedule. For many stuck in quarantine, there's a need to accomplish something momentous, such as writing the next great novel or learning Mandarine so "time isn't wasted". While there's no harm in professional development, Christina advises that this is the time to take a step back and advises not to overwhelm your schedule. "Our task is to keep clients sound in both mind and body and since we have all largely been together 24/7, it’s easy to get in each other's way. Take some leisure time for yourself, go read a book, do a crossword or simply stretch and relax.
“The reality of it is, it is easy to get overwhelmed. I have experienced challenges during this time which have caused me to dig a little deeper. We're lucky to have a really resilient team and I've been able to ask for help when needed. If you can ask for help, ask and accept it. Understand that you will get through this.”