Long Covid to the rescue?

I’m too wrapped up, I think, in my own experience of being autistic to know exactly where I come down on Nancy Doyle’s depiction of Long Covid as “acquired neurodivergence”. I know I’m just sort of automatically inclined toward irritation, but something sure seems to be happening to people’s brains.

A team of doctors working in the UK were able to analyse before / after neuroimages from a reasonably large cohort of 785 adults, of whom 401 had received a positive diagnosis for covid-19. These were compared with the 384 who had not. Even after the 15 severe (hospitalized) cases were removed, there were still noticeable shrinkages for the covid positive individuals affects the processing of smell and taste as well as an overall decrease in brain volume of 2%. The team also found evidence of significant cognitive decline for the covid group.

(I should also say that Doyle’s piece literally is the very first place I’ve ever seen anyone discuss “brain fog” as a problem with executive function. A few quick searches shows this isn’t an uncommon way to talk about brain fog, but it never seems to make it into general reporting. I’ve never considered the two to be related, but now it feels like it should always be talked about this way. Seemingly everyone at this point grasps “brain fog”; no one ever knows what “executive function” means.)

Long Covid reporting is all the rage right now, I guess intentionally coincident with the “end” of most pandemic restrictions. Just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen six stories about Long Covid, not including Doyle’s; I’ve got one more in my queue (from Katherine J. Wu at The Atlantic, which I’m anxious to read).

To be perfectly clear: it’s good that attention is being paid to Long Covid, but I haven’t yet felt settled in how I feel about it. Will the attention paid to it yield results for people who’ve been dealing with analogous conditions all along, such as people dealing with chronic pain or chronic fatigue, or autistic people like me? Or will Long Covid suck all the air out of the room, leaving these others, again—still—behind?

These are ugly thoughts, but we have them because our society is structured in such a way as to place us too all often in a zero-sum game. Attention and resources for thee means less attention and fewer resources, if any, for me.

My thoughts about Long Covid are complicated partly because many of the symptoms are things I deal with as a matter of routine (although possibly less severely than many of the Long Covid cases that make it into all this reporting), and partly because I’m absolutely certain that at some point I had a mild or asymptomatic infection and Long Covid hasn’t been limited to people with advanced or severe cases.

I keep wondering if my cognitive struggles over the past two years have been the natural result of an already struggling autistic brain being in a global pandemic, or have they been the result of a Covid infection? Really, if the latter it wouldn’t just be Covid: it would be a one-two punch of autism and Covid.

There’s all sorts of talk about Long Covid and the potential for increased risk of dementia. As an autistic person, I already carry an increased with of dementia. How many increased risks can pile atop one another before I have to start thinking about whether or not I’m rapidly going to go downhill, and when?

Will all these people struck with Long Covid get disability benefits, when I know I’m in for a long, uphill struggle to get my own due? Or will Long Covid be the rising, salving tide that lifts all our long-suffering boats?