Are Children With Disabilities More Susceptible To COVID-19?

To be sure, it’s a loaded question! And the possibility that children with disabilities might be more prone to infection by the novel coronavirus ripping across the globe right now, or more susceptible to the disease it causes, COVID-19, is especially scary. Parents have a lot of questions. We want to answer as many of them as we possibly can, starting with the biggest: Is my child at greater risk from COVID-19?

First and foremost, it depends on your child’s disability. COVID-19 is primarily a disease that presents with mild to moderate symptoms (according to the CDC), including runny nose, coughing, and fever. But those “mild” symptoms include “mild” cases of pneumonia in up to half of cases. Victims of COVID-19 say they were struggling for air. That means if your child suffers from a lung-related disability, they might be at greater risk than others.

The biggest concern is the extent of your child’s disability and what that might mean if doctors and nurses are forced to start “rationing” care in the event they run low on supplies, like ventilators. Should this happen — and it seems inevitable — then doctors will be forced to decide who receives one and who does not. That means those who are most likely to survive the illness will likely receive the best standard of care.

But that’s just conjecture.

For now, it’s best not to think about the worst case scenario. It makes more sense to think about how each of us can help prevent the worst case scenario. That means treating school closures not like an unexpected vacation, but the prevention technique that it is. Keep your children home. Sure, let them out in the backyard to play or toss a ball around, but avoid parks or areas where large numbers of people are gathered.

Right now, people who have never even hiked before are crowded the Appalachian Trail and state and local parks. Proceed with caution.

If your child is living with a disability, focus on keeping them healthy and happy. That means maintaining a routine while they’re stuck at home. A nightly curfew and morning wake-up call are very important. Make sure they aren’t looking at screens all day long. Reading, music, or family activities should all be a part of their day. Try to include educational activities if the school hasn’t provided any work.

Continue to maintain good nutrition. Vitamin C and Vitamin D are critical to keeping a strong immune system. Prepare a meal each night if possible, and be certain to get enough fruits and vegetables into their diets. This is a trying time for all of us, but we can get through it!

Doing More For Children Who Have Disable Parents

The goal of our website is spreading awareness about the massive obstacles that children with disabilities must face while growing up in today’s society. But sometimes it helps to flip that societal problem on its head and ask a different question: What can we do to better help children who grow up with parents with disabilities? Both groups of people often struggle. The Rhode Island State Senate recently passed a bill that could help the latter.

Senator Louis P. DiPalma (D-District 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, and Tiverton) was recently able to push through a bill that would prevent entitlement refusal for disabled parents. In part, the bill aims to reduce the stigma that disabled folks must endure.

DiPalma said, “Individuals with disabilities continue to face unfair, preconceived, and unnecessary societal biases, as well as antiquated attitudes regarding their ability to successfully parent their own children. This leads to new parents with disabilities being unnecessarily referred to social workers and governmental staff for evaluations of their parenting abilities to provide proper care and environments for their children, based solely upon erroneous assumptions about the parent’s disability.”

In other words, it will be more difficult for the state to refuse disability payments based on the misconceptions or ignorance of neighbors.

DiPalma says that the way the system has worked up until now “is unfair, unjust, and may also have serious effects on children who may be denied the opportunity to live in a loving home with parents or caretakers who also have disabilities. Our society is strongest with strong family environments so we should not eliminate loving homes for our kids simply because a parent has a disability.”

The new bill requires relevant service providers to receive increased education about those parents who have disabilities. These providers include medical personnel, child protective services, lawyers, prosecutors, and judges — especially wherein the overall welfare of children is concerned when the potential for foster care or adoption exists.

The bill precludes a parent from being referred to child protective services on only the basis of a disability. Whereas this concept is great in theory, it’s difficult to predict how it will be put into practice — especially when those same prejudices about the ability of parents with disabilities to do their job result in the misconception about how and why a parent might not be successful. 

The party making an allegation must now collect relevant evidence and prove the case — which means neighbors are less likely to try. The welfare of a child must be in clear and present danger for state action to be recommended and taken.

Raising Awareness For Children With Disabilities

The world might seem like it’s deteriorating into a writhing mess of devastation and disagreement, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. By many metrics, the world is a better place to live than ever before. Global poverty is down, life expectancy is up, education is up, and nearly half the world is poised to get connected to the world wide web — which until now had been more of an ironic phrase.

And a lot of awareness has been raised for groups who are in need. Especially children living with disabilities.

Wausau residents Sharon and LeRoy Dehnel have made it a point to raise money for these kids every year for the past 30 years. Quite a feat. You might be surprised how they do it! They collect deer hides from those who don’t use or want them, and then sell them to raise money for those kids. Some of the hides are manufactured into skin gloves for those kids who are less fortunate.

A founder of the fundraising organization, Bernard Stuttgen, said, “Right now there are about 200 clubs collecting deer hides. I do it because it helps the kids who need it most. Once you go there and get to know one of the kids personally, it’s so heartwarming. It’s just a good program and brings in money that might not come in otherwise.”

Believe it or not, the fundraisers have racked in over $1.2 million. 

Meanwhile, the YMCA has commenced a number of programs for those living with disabilities, including young children. The idea of the program is based on the idea that anyone can be active through activities like basketball, dance, or gymnastics in some way.

Gymnastics Director Jensen Sullivan said, “I’ve had the idea for a really long time, but I didn’t want to use it until I was full-time here. So once I had been here for a while and I got some Midland students to come in and help me, I decided to get the ball rolling and just get it going.”

And that’s an interesting idea in support of government entitlement programs. Some people have great ideas about how to help others, but simply can’t afford to implement them on their own or without the proper funding.

Still, it seems more of these programs are being implemented today than they were a decade or two ago.

Sullivan said, “Parents can sign their kids up through the entire session. So if they’re a little late, they can join anyways. We’re just going to kind of go with the flow, because you never know what kids are going to want to do with this type of class. But we’re going to be doing beams, bars, vaults, we’re going to let them use the trampoline, the foam pit, and we’ll set up an obstacle course.”

Cleveland Volunteers Finds Ways To Include Children With Disabilities During Holidays

Michelle Dunphy recently wrote about her dissatisfaction with the Madison School Board, which recently voted to implement a whopping $4 million on special-needs programming. While that might sound like a giant step in the right direction, it isn’t. That’s because the programming isn’t built around personalized interviews or education, but on segregated programming specifically for these kids. It means they’ll be segregated from other kids.

Dunphy notes, “Over 30 years of research on special-needs education has shown that segregating students is detrimental to their development. While a full-time inclusive classroom may not be right for every student, being around peers is crucial to social-emotional development.”

She goes on to say that the special needs community as a whole was not in favor of the decision, nor was their input really heard or considered before the board made its choice.

This is a stark contrast to a current holiday gathering in Cleveland, where volunteers for Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center helped to modify toys in order for special needs kids to be comfortable with them.

And the event wasn’t only about kids with behavioral disabilities either — it was about everyone who might have a tough time playing with the same toys beloved by other kids.

One of the volunteers, Ethan Timar, said, “Solder different wires so that the people with disabilities can do it because they can’t move the switch, they can push a bigger button so they can do it easier.”

Farrah Howard, another volunteer, said, “I hadn’t really thought much about how a child with a disability may or may not be able to enjoy a Christmas gift or a birthday gift or just a toy on any given day because they can’t use it so this is definitely an eye opener for me.”

The event was organized by RePlay for Kids, which has conducted at least 140 such workshops. Biomedical engineer Bill Memberg thought about this decades ago: “There was an ad in the Plain Dealer from the Cuyahoga County Board of Disabilities,” he said. “So, it sounded like a fun activity, and I had some time available…We bring the toys and tools and instructions to wherever their location is, so it’s pretty easy to do.”

Almost 2,000 of the modified toys have been donated to children who want them. Howard said, “It’s really giving me an extra boost because I know I am putting some smiles on people’s faces and I’m kind of amazing that I’ll be able to do it.”

Can The Movie “Frozen” Teach Parents How To Raise Children With Special Needs?

One mother believes that it was this movie that taught her how to interact with her 6-year-old son, Sam, who requires hearing aids. Even without the ability to hear on his own, he’s still quite fond of singing. His mother, Tina, said that the situation was much different when he was a toddler. He was out of control. She described his willful nature as comparable to Elsa, the protagonist of the movie Frozen.

Susan Henderson, executive director of Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund’s parent training center, said that “Elsa’s ability to make snow and ice makes her different from her parents, her sister Anna and everyone else around her.”

For Tina and her son, that’s where the relatability can be discerned. That’s where the learning comes into play.

“As a result, others treat her differently,” Henderson continued. “Like Elsa, children with disabilities are often the only ones in their family who are disabled, and they may be similarly misunderstood, treated differently or segregated. This is, in part, why so many disabled kids identify with her. They know what it is like to feel isolated and alone, even at home.”

Sam didn’t pick up Frozen when it came out in 2013, primarily because he had only just been born. But the movie has continued to find new viewers ever since, and Sam was one of them.

Tina wrote, “When I eventually saw it, one of my first thoughts was, Elsa’s parents handled her supernatural penchant for turning everything to ice terribly, even if it was well-intentioned. Obviously they don’t want her to be a danger to herself or others, particularly her sister. But making her hide away? …Instead of giving Elsa the tools she needed to manage her ability — or disability, as they treated it — they tried to force her into something she wasn’t. No wonder why she was so messed up.”

And that so perfectly describes similar situations that real-world parents find themselves placed in when trying to learn about, and interact with, their own special needs children.

Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, Elizabeth Ellcessor says, “I can see how Elsa’s experiences with her powers in Frozen may be interpreted as similar to experiences of disabled children. She has a notable difference in her capacities, and that difference affects her ability to interact with people and society around her.”

And that’s the important takeaway from the movie, she describes. “Because others aren’t prepared for her differences, she is isolated and takes on significant shame around her powers; this recalls what we call the ‘social model’ of disability, in which experiences of disability are caused not by individual bodies, but by a society that is based around a small range of ‘normal’ bodies and abilities, and thus excludes people who don’t fit within that range.”

And that’s why education is so fundamentally important.

Woman Indicted For Embezzlement Scheme To Steal Money From Non-Profit For Kids With Special Needs

Police discovered that Michelle DeMauro, a 48-year old from Revere, Massachusetts, had been embezzling cash from the nonprofit where she once worked as president. She used tens of thousands of dollars of the nonprofit’s money. The worst part? The nonprofit was called the Revere League for Special Needs.

The organization is built to keep kids with special needs safe, and to increase education of those who care for them. Workers are all volunteers. No one receives monetary compensation for the work they do.

DeMauro seems intent on proclaiming her innocence. She said that it was all a misunderstanding based on: “Very bad bookkeeping. Very, very bad bookkeeping.”

Her indictment was for two counts of larceny over $1,200 and another two counts of obtaining a signature under false pretenses.

Attorney General Maura Healey said that DeMauro used at least $42,000 to pay for expenses like home improvement, electronics, and gift cards, and that at least a few of her purchases used the non-profit status to dodge taxes.

DeMauro said she thinks the whole thing is fabricated: “I don’t even know where they got $42,000. That’s a made up number.”

According to an online profile, the “Revere League for the Retarded, Inc.” was also headed by DeMauro before its non-profit tax exempt status was revoked by the IRS. Apparently the organization failed to file the correct tax forms for at least three consecutive years and is currently under investigation.

The nonprofit’s mission statement says: “Care for the mentally impaired thru travel/entertainment/social functions, etc.”

Interested in giving special needs organizations and nonprofits a better name? Here are a few that are looking for help and/or donations:

Easter Seals provides help for both children and adults who suffer from disabilities or special needs. They cater to children, senior, and vets with targeted therapy and education.

The Arc provides information and referrals to employment, residential, and recreational programs for intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, Fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, etc.

Friendship Circle International is a Jewish organization dedicated to kids who are growing up with special needs, and runs 80 locations around the globe. It utilizes teenage volunteers in an effort to cultivate peer understanding and diverse, mutually beneficial relationships between kids in different walks of life.

Goodwill Industries International helps out with financially coaching and educating anyone with special needs, young or old — even if those people have criminal backgrounds. Their mission is to cultivate understanding throughout the community.

Do Parents’ Divorce Adversely Affect Kids With Disabilities More Than Other Kids?

Divorce is a struggle for most families and it can be especially difficult for children to understand why it sometimes is the very best option for parents — and studies show that it is. Most parents who stay together simply for the sake of their kids seem to do more harm than good. But is the same true for kids who grow up with behavioral disorders or disabilities? Do divorcing parents adversely affect their kids with disabilities more than other kids?

The question has been asked in the wake of Todd and Sarah Palin’s likely upcoming divorce, and experts are calling out those who would spread certain myths.

A young divorce attorney named Miranda gives parents a bit of advice: “There’s no statistically relevant empirical data proving that a child with autism cannot have two happily married parents. The idea that parents with a child on the spectrum cannot stay married is simply untrue.” 

She continues, “Parents who are suffering difficulties with their kids or in their marriage should take the same steps as anyone else — it might be time for counseling. Separation or divorce is always a last resort for parents who want to do best by their children; sadly, sometimes divorce is the only thing that makes sense, and it’s important to acknowledge that reality too.” 

That said, the rumor that children with disabilities are more likely to have unhappy or divorced parents is rooted in a concept known as “ableism” which simply posits that fewer disabilities and more conformity mean a better life for everyone. Experts are quick to point out that such a narrow-minded set of beliefs can cause otherwise good parents to become unhappy or divorce out of a sort of self-fulfilled prophecy.

Divorce in some cases is worse for disabled kids than those who live without disability. 

According to the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), “divorce rates were not elevated, on average, in families with a child with developmental disabilities. However, in small families, there was a significantly higher risk of divorce relative to a normative comparison group.”

But part of the reason is because parents struggle to understand the basic needs of their kids. Understanding and meeting those needs is crucial to a healthy transition. Maintaining a strong bond between a child and both the child’s parents is equally important, and both homes must be safe, stable places for the child to visit if custody is shared.

In addition, it’s important for parents to keep asking questions. The child’s wishes are important to creating the stable environment necessary.

South Carolina Teacher Charged With Murder After Special Needs Student Dies

When we send our kids off to school, we trust the adults who are paid to keep them safe to do exactly that. The apprehension we feel when placing that trust in people we don’t always know is often amplified when our kids have special needs or fail to fit in as easily as other kids do. But those adults don’t always keep our kids safe. They don’t always do their job. 

Such was the case in South Carolina only last week when a 13-year-old girl who had special needs was locked in a hot car. 

A 911 call was placed early Monday evening. The deputies who responded to the call arrived at the scene where the 13-year-old girl had been left in the car on Low Country Highway. According to the 911 call, she was not breathing. Family members had already pulled the girl out of the vehicle when authorities arrived, but it was too late. She had already succumbed to the heat.

Two people were charged with murder the next day, one a 49-year-old early childhood education teacher, Rita Pangalangan, who works at the Colleton County School District. School officials acknowledged that she was put on paid leave while an investigation into the matter is conducted. Also arrested was Larry King, a 41-year-old man.

Both Pangalangan and King were at the scene of the girl’s death, but no further information was provided as to why the pair was arrested or how they were connected to the tragic events that transpired that evening. They were denied bond on Tuesday last week.

An autopsy is being conducted. 

Students who have special needs are among the most underrepresented groups in the United States, and sustain more injuries at school than other children. Part of the problem is the result of understaffed schools. Children with special needs are more difficult to teach, and without the right training, their educators will make mistakes. Sometimes resources for properly training educators how to deal with individual disabilities or special needs simply are not available. 

Until new legislation is passed, this problem is only likely to become worse.

Was your special needs child injured during what should have been a routine education? We want to hear your story. Valiente Law is a Miami-based criminal defense law firm that also specializes in personal injury, and can help you seek justice for your child.

NYC Plans to Address Special Education Issues

Following on from a scathing report into the failures that have been found in the special education system in New York City, officials have acknowledged that there are some flaws at various levels of the system and that they plan to address them.

The education department issued a statement explaining the systemic failures that were identified in the state review which was published in May and found that the initial evaluations for the special education services were often delayed or had not happened at all. Officials have promised to make a series of reforms which will tackle a range of issues. One thing that was highlighted was the fact that mandated service needs are not always met, and that the appeals process is currently overwhelmed, which means that students who are in need often find themselves in limbo.

Advocates Unimpressed With The Response

Advocates were unimpressed with the response. The city has promised that there will be better special education programs for preschoolers and that hundreds of new staff will be hired to help to conduct evaluations and to handle any disputes regarding services.

Chancellor Richard Carranza said that the education department is committed to taking steps to improve special education, however, there are many who fear that the reforms may not have a big enough impact on the ground. Currently, there are more than 220,000 students who have disabilities. That is a significant portion of the population. Those with special education needs, as a population, face worse academic outcomes than those of a similar age who do not have special needs.

The latest statistics indicate that almost one-quarter of students with disabilities are deprived of access to one or more required services. Thousands of students in the city are not given access to any of the mandated services at all. Those children face poorer outcomes and this could greatly impact their long-term prospects.

The city is proposing the addition of 200 new special education preschool seats, as well as thousands of 3-K seats. There is demand for far more than 200 seats at the pre-school level, however, so campaigners are disappointed with the lack of support at that level.

Critics call the department’s goals unambitious, noting that just 68% of requested evaluations for special services at the preschool level take place on time. The goal is to boost this by five percent, which is still viewed as being too low by many.

What Parents Wish They Knew Before Their Child Was Diagnosed On The Spectrum

Finding out one of your kids is on the autism spectrum isn’t easy, especially because we’re still learning about how these kids can best be taught to interact as productive members of society. It can be a scary pill for parents to swallow. The good news is this: more and more information is available year by year. We’re learning. We’re growing. And we’re all helping one another up and over these challenging obstacles.

There are a lot of things many parents of a child on the spectrum wished they had known before diagnosis. Here are just a few:

  1. Although those on the spectrum might be invisible before interaction takes place, it doesn’t mean that completely separate medical issues won’t impact your child in mysterious (and unwanted) ways. A bout of diarrhea or stomach bug can wreak havoc on someone who is on the spectrum, but the victim won’t always shout out his or her symptoms. You won’t always know what’s wrong, but you’ll know something is up. Many parents wish they’d known how to communicate during these scenarios ahead of time.

  2. Doctors can be wrong, and often are. Parental instincts shouldn’t be ignored, and that means that sometimes it can be necessary to hunt down the second opinion you think will justify your concerns, which are often right on point. A proper diagnosis for someone on the spectrum means a lifetime worth of personalized, appropriate treatment and a real chance at living a “normal” life by the time adulthood comes around.

  3. Many parents are misguided into thinking their child doesn’t have a normal range of emotions during the early stages after diagnosis. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Autistic kids and others who experience similar diagnoses feel just as much as anyone else. Sometimes they likely feel even more. The difference lies in how they learn to express it.

  4. A child on the spectrum can mean change for the better. These struggles won’t just help parent and child learn to interact during the traditionally problematic years of adolescence, they will lead you to become that much closer. The entire family is more likely to learn patience, empathy, and compassion by having your child in their lives.

  5. Those on the spectrum don’t require a cure, they require constant support, learning, and human interaction on a deeper level than most other kids, who are more independent. They’re different. They’re unique. They’re not broken.

  6. When a baby cries, it means something: hunger, dirty diaper, no attention, etc. Kids on the spectrum don’t always use words to communicate even when they grow older, which can be a tremendous burden on parents. But the “enthusiastic” behavior always means something. It’s the parent’s job to figure out what that something is.