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. Providing services is proving to be very difficult.
The behaviors started a few days after COVID-19 closed schools indefinitely in March: Eleven-year-old Ronan Strouse would bite one arm, issue frequent short, high-pitched yells, bang his leg hard.
Ronan, who is intellectually disabled, has autism and other complicated conditions, can’t carry on a conversation, but he had words enough to ask his mother: “School sick?” “Yes,” Celine Nace would tell her son. “School is sick.”
Ronan’s is one of 500 families across the country who have signed onto a federal class-action lawsuit filed in New York in July; the number grows daily, said Patrick Donahue, the lawyer who filed the action, which seeks to either force schools to reopen or offer parents vouchers to obtain the services their children need, plus compensatory education and punitive damages for missed months of education.Dan Albano at The Orange County Register:
“There’s no pandemic pass,” said Donahue, who also runs a private school for special-needs students. His school sent workers to offer in-person services in students’ homes when the coronavirus first shut schools; it fully reopened in May. “These are the most vulnerable of our population, and most schools have abandoned these families.”
Jessica Postil, co-owner and executive director of Autism Spectrum Consultants, said agencies such as hers have helped students be more successful with distance learning through in-person support. She recommends parents discuss support options for academics with their district as well as the Regional Center of Orange County or even their private insurance.
“With in-person assistance, we have a higher ability to manage behavior and keep the client online and working on their educational goals because we are addressing their behavior,” said Postil, whose company serves Orange County, the Inland Empire and San Diego.
“Some of our kids don’t like looking at faces or eyes (on the computer screen) and it causes them anxiety,” she said. “Other kids with autism have high distractibility. If they are given a device, they are minimizing that classroom screen if they’re not managed and they are on a game immediately.”