In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges get far more intense during disasters. And coronavirus is proving to be the biggest disaster of all.
Studies suggest that death rates from pneumonia — a common Covid-19 complication — were up to 5.8 times higher in 2017 among those with intellectual disabilities. During the 2009 flu pandemic, more than 40 percent of the children who died had neurodevelopmental disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled intellectual disability as a high risk condition for flu.
An intellectual disability itself isn’t a risk factor for Covid-19 but kids with developmental disabilities often have other underlying medical conditions that could be. A recent study showed such kids are slightly more likely to die from Covid-19. Jo Jo also has Graves’ disease (a form of hyperthyroidism) and takes medicine that suppresses her immune system. A typical virus hits her hard: This winter she tested positive for the flu and ran a 104-degree fever for almost a week.
Knowing all this, it’s very tough for me to gauge if any activities — even outdoor ones — are safe for Jo Jo or her brothers, who may put her at risk. “In many ways, these last couple months, when everyone has stayed at home, was the easy part,” said Barbara Saunders, D.O., a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Children with Disabilities and the mother of a 16-year-old with Angelman syndrome. “Weighing when, and how, to re-enter the community without putting your child at risk is so much harder.”