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How to Support Loved Ones With Developmental Disabilities During the Pandemic

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As change and confusion spread across the Hudson Valley, these steps make life easier for individuals with developmental disabilities.

In a word, life during the COVID-19 pandemic is confusing.

Yet in the face of an uncertain future, Hudson Valleyites band together to support one another through charitable outreach, free fitness classes, and virtual learning opportunities. For those individuals with developmental disabilities in the region, however, the unprecedented situation can be an additional source of anxiety and disruption.

Depending on the scenario, the surge of layoffs and furloughs could mean a great deal of change for these individuals, who may see caregivers less often while they search for supplemental income or are temporarily unable to visit with loved ones due to facility sanitation protocol.

No matter what life may look like, there are ways to make the quotidian experience just a little easier for Hudson Valley residents with developmental disabilities. From local nonprofit Greystone Programs, Inc., which assists individuals and families with autism and other developmental disabilities, Director of Behavior Supports Elizabeth Carino, M.S., BCBA, LBA shares her advice.

Provide Reassurance

Anxiety and stress are common emotions during the COVID-19 crisis, Carino notes. Yet when around individuals with developmental disabilities, it’s critical to set those feelings aside so as to foster a positive atmosphere.

An aura of calm and hope is far more helpful to assuage confusion and ease any tension.

Be Honest

Don’t lie to your loved ones, Carino says. That being said, telling the truth is all about delivery. Instead of discussing information in a way that invokes fear or anger, frame it in a way that is clear and understandable.

“Do not withhold information to prevent a negative reaction and let them process as they need,” she recommends. “Let them know you are there for them.”

Residents and staff of Greystone’s Montgomery house enjoy a friendly game of volleyball. Photo courtesy of Greystone Programs

Stay Connected

During a time of social distancing, maintaining ties with family and friends is a challenge. For those individuals with developmental disabilities, the need to foster connection is just as critical as ever, albeit potentially more challenging to achieve. Depending on the case, the sudden halt of social activities like school and community programs may be confusing and burdensome for both parties. As those with disabilities struggle to cope with a change in routine, caregivers struggle to find additional support for their loved ones. For those in residential facilities, meanwhile, in-person visits might be limited or banned, creating a roadblock in routine and a tumult of emotions.

Regardless of the situation, don’t let connection fall to the wayside, Carino stresses. Those moments of conversation or simply being present are integral to overall mental wellbeing.

“Utilize video conferencing on platforms like Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts [or] encourage them to write letters or help facilitate regular phone calls with friends, family, and other close connections,” she advises.

Behavior Is Communication

Remember the good old “actions speak louder than words?” It’s the motto to live by when it comes to interacting with loved ones with developmental disabilities during the pandemic. In every conversation or meeting, keep in mind that lingering fear and frustration can manifest in the actions of both parties. In these instances, take a pause to ease the situation and cultivate serenity.

In terms of activities, Carino recommends taking walks, drawing pictures, listening to music, playing games, looking at photos, or cooking a favorite meal. Anything to reassure them and foster empathy is key.

Residents of Greystone’s Amenia house use cutting edge technology to continue independent learning and engage with social story learning. Photo courtesy of Greystone Programs

Embrace Activities 

With information changing by the minute, it’s all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of news and social media during the pandemic. To find a balance between information consumption and quality time, limit screen time for individuals with developmental disabilities and focus on communal activities instead. Walking outdoors, crafting, or playing games are not only engaging ways to spend time with one another, but they’re also therapeutic. Visit Greystone’s website for a stay-at-home activity guide.

Experience Unity 

At the end of the day, the key to persevering during the COVID-19 crisis is togetherness. For Hudson Valleyites with developmental disabilities, their families, and their caregivers, preexisting bonds are supports upon which everyone can fall back and find comfort.

“Leverage the trust and respect you have with your loved ones and those you support,” Carino says. “Take care of each other and, together, find ways of serving others in your community.”

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