Lockdown Is Forcing Special Needs Parents to Get Creative
With professional help, parents of kids with autism and developmental delays are embracing DIY therapies
For Darlene Rodrigo, finding the right care for her daughter, Bella, has been a challenge. The sixth grader is nonverbal and has Down syndrome and autism. Despite these obstacles, her family’s hard work has helped Bella to bond with not only her teachers, but also the team who work to provide her with the therapies and assisted technologies that help her communicate.
But isolating during a global pandemic has changed that, and now, the Ontario, California, family is figuring out alternatives.
“I think this quarantine and this whole — I guess you could say — unforced lockdown has left us all to figure things out,” Rodrigo says.
While scrolling on Instagram last week, I saw Bella at a table with her dad, carefully working to pick up cotton rounds with tongs and place them into a bowl.
“The video that you saw was our very first attempt at occupational therapy over film with her OT therapist,” Darlene Rodrigo tells me. “We’re all doing what we can to make things work.”
I was drawn in by the video because, like the Rodrigos, no school for my son means more than just a loss in the educational instruction that schools provide — it means no occupational therapy, no physical therapy, no speech. He has autism and severe cognitive delay, and had just learned how to say his first word in sign language: “Please.” With his traditional therapies on pause, parents like me are seeking innovative ways to fill in the gaps in care.
Schools throughout the U.S. started to close mid-March, and currently, 37 states have either ordered or recommended that schools remain closed this year, according to Education Week. Where we live in Chicago, the close leaves the city’s some 52,000 students who have Individualized Education Plans (called IEPs) or IFSPs (Individualized Family Service Plans for children under 3) and receive some type of service seeking alternate means of care. And in a school district that’s 83% Black or Hispanic, the city’s students of color are severely impacted — a trend that undoubtedly looks similar across the…