Lockdown a unique challenge for those with special needs

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, May 12, 2020

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For everyone in Beaufort County, the past two months have been a period of profound change. Daily schedules have been altered in many ways, and people with special needs have seen familiar routines go by the wayside.

Usually, two local groups, the Arc of Beaufort County, and Accept and Excel, offer both a sense of fellowship and opportunities for people with special needs to be included in the broader community. But with social distancing being the new norm, many of the in-person activities these groups offered before have been put on hold.

“A lot of our typical children can get on Zoom and get on the different platforms and communicate,” said Allison Crisp, director of Accept and Excel. “But a lot of our children with special needs, they can’t. I see a lot that are nonverbal or don’t have anyone to communicate with.”

Crisp, who also works as an occupational therapist at Pitt County Schools, says online socialization is often a poor substitute to one-on-one interactions for some people with special needs. Many of the social activities the population looks forward to, such as Special Olympics, have been canceled for the summer, which is also a disappointment.

“It’s been very difficult for the older ages, the ones who are out of school and right up through the geriatrics,” said Sandra Buckman, executive director of the Arc of Beaufort County. “Some are staying in a group home, with five or six people. A lot of those people were going to various programs like (Beaufort County Development Center) and working every day. Some of them were going to Lifequest in a psychosocial rehab program. All those people, now, have been forced to stay home.”


While the disruption has caused additional stress for some families, both Crisp and Buckman say creating a schedule is important. For Buckman’s daughter, Nina, rebuilding that sense of routine has been helpful in adjusting to life during a pandemic.

“We had to create a schedule, and we had to do it quickly,” Buckman said. “There was so much on the news that created fear, and all this concentrating on the unknown enemy, instead of concentrating on daily life. So at home, we get up, we make the beds up and put our clothes on every morning. My daughter helps me plan the menus for the day and cook. Then we have part of the day where my daughter does academic work.”

While Crisp acknowledges that each situation is different, there is an overall feeling of missing out on social interactions. She also emphasizes the need for structure, adding in the need for education and outside time, as well. Trying to get on Facetime or other video chat apps can also be helpful, she said, just to hear friendly voices.

“Just try to have as much of a structured schedule as possible,” Crisp said. “I do recommend, with the ones who can, to try to have their own learning session in the morning. There’s lots on PBS Kids, and Youtube has some amazing little educational times they can go on.”

Trillium Health Resources, the regional agency that provides support for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities, has also compiled a wealth of resources on its websites to help families work through the isolation of being at home. Those resources can be found online at www.trilliumhealthresources.org/news-events-training/coronavirus-information.