COVID-19 has and is likely to affect more people across geographical locations. Already over 4,000 people in India have been affected by this virus as on date and 1,136,851 confirmed cases from 208 countries worldwide, as per numbers out by the WHO (World Health Organisation) on 6 April 2020.
As numbers indicate, the virus does not differentiate between the strongest or the weakest link in the chain. The chain, as we have observed over the last few weeks, does have several weak links, one of which are people with developmental disabilities, such as autism and intellectual disabilities. The breakdown of vital support systems due to the lockdown does present a new set of challenges not just for persons with developmental disabilities, but also their caregivers, which primarily means their family.
The children, men and women, who cannot care for themselves are high at risk, and some have difficulties in implementing basic hygiene measures. Others may not be able to practice social distancing because they require constant support. Confined within the four walls of their home, these differently-abled persons also experience stress which they often are unable to express, leave alone cope with. Those that need to run out and exert themselves physically, cannot do so. in the current circumstances. Changes to their routine can be unsettling and may increase stress, anxiety and even provoke anger. Unlike regular folk, they are not able to distract, channelise or sublimate themselves.
At home, their caregivers, are also dealing with uncertainty and fear in their own way; they are increasingly finding it very difficult to address their needs, give them solutions, soothe them, and take their pain away. Many caregivers have resorted to medication, to calm people with developmental disabilities – they were not prepared for this unexpected change in routine.
It’s in these times, we need to step up and show compassion. This will make the caregiver stronger and more confident.
If you know someone who cares for a person with developmental disabilities, here are some things you can do:
- Do not make them feel ashamed or guilty. Partner with them emotionally so it gets easier for them.
- Call them. Talk to them. Keep people informed, stay in regular contact, and reassure them.
- Make sure people get the practical support they need. Example: food, groceries, medications.
- Accept that there maybe in noise and disturbances in a home supporting a person with developmental disabilities.
As a society, we will be measured by how we support the vulnerable – after all they are the weakest link in the chain.