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.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In New York State's Catskill Mountains, it's a landmark day for these young people. All of them who have severe medical issues and co-morbidities, today is the day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. one, two, three, awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job.
TUCHMAN: They get the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Awesome, bud.
TUCHMAN: This is the 1,500-acre Center for Discovery, where hundreds of vulnerable children and adults with complex medical conditions live and visit for clinical treatments and educational, social, nutritional and recreational experiences.
24-year-old Kaditra Dis (ph) has cerebral palsy.
That's a beautiful hat. How do you know how to make a hat? I have no idea of how to make a hat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do.
TUCHMAN: I do? I couldn't do it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are done. Good job, yes.
TUCHMAN: For months, the residents here were not able to see their parents and families in person because of COVID. Now, with proper precautions they can and parents are with their children as they get their vaccines.
R.J. has severe autism. His mother said his grandfather died from COVID in April.
DENISE LOMBARDI, R.J.'s MOTHER: I know that my dad would be so proud of how well R.J. has done through this entire ordeal. And particularly today, you saw how much of a trooper he was getting his shot.
TUCHMAN: Jody also has profound autism and seizure disorders.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Looks like a boo-boo.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Can we just call it boo-boo?
TUCHMAN: Her mother says not being able to see Jodie in person for months was excruciating.
ALISON SINGER, JODIE'S MOTHER: Just the thought of that, for me, has been the worst part of the pandemic. So, getting the vaccine today, it's the beginning of the end of that nightmare.
TUCHMAN: Although residents and employees here have tested positive for COVID over these months, there have been no deaths. Credit is given to the diligence of the employees here, about 1,700 of them. And they too are getting the vaccine. After all, it's the employees who can bring the virus in.
PATRICK DOLLARD, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR DISCOVERY: Their courage and their efforts just keep us moving forward but we have to stay with it. It's not a mic drop yet. We still have to get through this still.
TUCHMAN: The parents visiting realize this frightening time is not over, but the relief on this day is palpable.
MICHAEL ROSEN, NICKY'S FATHER: It is so emotional. And he knew in his gut that this is something he wanted to do. I can't tell you how emotional it is to watch someone you were so worried about for so many months and, automatically, you see a hope on the horizon.
TUCHMAN: And remember the hat-maker we met earlier --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay, a little pinch. Ready? Can you feel it? Not at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, good job.
TUCHMAN: Well (INAUDIBLE) says she is most grateful that she too has now been vaccinated.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Monticello, New York.