Autism: What should I expect during the COVID-19 vaccine process?
Updated: Jun 13
Since people with autism can sometimes have difficulty processing instructions, it may be important for them to know what to expect when they get their COVID-19 vaccine.
Based on my experience, when you first go in, someone may offer a hand sanitizer to you. After that, there may be registration desks and social distancing arrows for you to follow. Arrows can help people with autism more than simply telling them where to go, as these people are often concrete learners.
You will have to go to at least two registration desks to show forms and your health card to employees and answer questions. The people there may ask you questions about your contact information, health, medications, allergies, whether you have any COVID-19 symptoms and where you are working. Make sure you have as much information as possible and that you answer all questions honestly. If you do not understand what the person is asking you, ask them to repeat.
Once you finish answering the questions and showing the papers and health cards, a staff member may walk you to your vaccination spot. Since people on the spectrum may not understand rules right away, it is worth noting that at least some vaccination clinics may not allow photos and videos while you are taking your vaccine. At least one staff member will likely remind you this when you enter the clinic, whether you have a phone or not.
The nurse putting the vaccine in your arm may ask you similar questions to what the people at the registration desks asked you before the vaccination.
Some people with autism may be highly sensitive to needles because of touch sensitivities. If this is an issue with your child or yourself, it will be best to either work things out to slowly go back to normal or make an exception if health issues may prevent one from wanting to get a needle.
Once you finish your shot, the nurse may ask you to sit in the chair for 15 minutes and write down the time to show your proof of vaccination to the next desk. The 15-minute wait is so staff can see if you react well to the vaccine. Once you finish this, you will receive your sticker and receipt that staff at the desk print out.
What happened when I went to my COVID-19 vaccine appointment?
I went into St. Volodymyr Cultural Centre in Oakville to get my first Pfizer shot last Wednesday. My father went in with me because he wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing and so he could take a picture of me after I got my shot. Sometimes, people can get impatient with me if I don't fully understand things right away. The second time, I may go in myself. I can understand normal routines, but I will need to do them repeatedly to become more familiar with them. Many normal people may understand things the first time, but this doesn't always apply to me.
Staff would ask my father if he was also getting his shot. He would say, "I'm here to help my son because he has autism." I could independently do almost everything, except my father had to remind me to use our family email address instead of my email address since he and my mother want to get up-to-date information right away.
When the one staff member walked me over to my vaccination spot in one of the ceremony rooms, I was temporarily lost because I forgot who I was supposed to follow. My father reminded me to follow the lady. This whole episode only lasted three seconds. Therefore, it wasn't a big deal. If one saw me from a far distance, it would have looked like I completely knew what I was doing.
The nurse wore a face shield while she asked me questions. Because of this, I couldn't fully hear what she said but could pick up on at least a couple of words to get an idea of what she asked me. For example, I heard her say the word conditions. I quickly understood she wanted information about my health and told her that I had no major issues.
The needle felt fine. I felt it for the first two seconds, but I didn't for the rest of the time. For those who are sensitive to sharp objects, it felt more like a stone was pushing against my shoulder rather than a needle. I was scared of needles when I was younger, but I got over my fear long ago.
After I got my sticker, we went along the exit door from the ceremony room. My father took my picture at the end.
Overall, the vaccination process should go smoothly for many people with autism.
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