Pandemic brings unique struggles to parents of children with special needs

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- When you're a parent of a special needs child, you work hard to get them the appropriate assistance - whether that is a therapist, an individualized education program, or simply a tutor to assist with learning disabilities.

Needless to say, life can be complicated enough. Now with many of us isolated, education, social development and family balance can feel overwhelming.

Erica Daniels' 15-year-old son, Leo, is on the severe end of the autism spectrum. It is often difficult for him to understand social cues under normal situations.

With the pandemic creating a cultural shift, it's not easy for Erica to explain the change.

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"He doesn't know how to social distance. He tends to, like, come close to people and right now it's a scary thing to people," she said.

Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician Dr. Wendy Ross says every week that goes by is crucial for families.

"One of the issues is that they are missing a development window for learning and the schools won't be able to make this up by accelerating or providing these services later," said Ross, of the Center for Autism and neurodiversity at Jefferson University Hospital.

Ross says we have to consider the health consequences s of COVID-19, but we can't ignore the problems social and educational closures create.

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"There are also mental health and subsequently physical consequences of people becoming depressed and isolated at home," Ross said.

Angela Walden is an educator and her son is on the spectrum.

"A lot of the social skills are being practiced throughout the day and it's really difficult to do in this environment," she said.

While she agrees the best place for him is to be in school, she tells Action News the lawmakers and school administrators are in a tough spot.

"I know a lot of thought went into these decisions and I know they were not easy," she said.

Dr. Wendy Ross does have some advice for parents and some tools they can use to help navigate this new reality.

For more on that and other resources, visit the following links:

https://hospitals.jefferson.edu/departments-and-services/center-for-autism-and-neurodiversity/resources.html

https://hospitals.jefferson.edu/content/dam/health/PDFs/departments/autism/20-1651_Primary_Care_Autism_Neurodiversity_COVID-19_Strategies_Flyer_final.pdf

https://hospitals.jefferson.edu/content/dam/health/PDFs/departments/autism/20-1665_ADHD_Flyer_v2.pdf
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