The last year has been one of almost unbelievable change and tragedy. When the pandemic was declared in March 2020 we had no idea what would happen. For everyone throughout the world there has been an impact and almost 3 million people have died.
In Ontario, we are in our third state-of-emergency which includes school closures and significant restrictions on our daily activities. Many families with children and youth with physical disabilities and chronic health conditions have been house bound for over a year because their child cannot risk casual contact with other students or individuals in the community.
Easter Seals families have identified some of the most significant impacts of the pandemic on their children and families:
- Loss of education and learning – Virtual or remote learning is not ideal for children and youth with physical disabilities, and programming for many high needs students has been inadequate. The skill and ability to focus on education through a screen has been beyond the capacity of some students, and the school staff have been ill prepared to provide effective programming. Parents are feeling like that their child has lost more than a year of their education.
- Physical and social isolation – Pandemic restrictions and the need to protect vulnerable children from COVID-19 have prevented the gathering of children and youth outside of the classroom and resulted in cancellation of most of the sports and recreational activities that are vital part of health and wellbeing. The lack of social connection and the physical isolation have had a negative impact on mental health, resulting in increased anxiety and depression.
- Limited access to therapy – Without access to rehabilitation therapists, and educational assistants who implement exercise programs, some children are experiencing regression including a decrease in range of motion, increased muscle contractures and loss of fine and gross motor skills. Virtual therapy sessions are available but it is the lack of support for hands on care that has been the biggest problem. Parents have done their best but with multiple responsibilities (education, health and personal care) and providing care 24/7 without adequate breaks or respite, and daily therapy exercise programs have often been dropped.
- Limited access to assessments for new equipment – Over the last year children have continued to outgrow their orthotics and mobility equipment and families need more bathroom and accessibility equipment in the home. Shower chairs, commodes and transfer benches are needed in the bathroom as well as portable or track lifts in the bedroom for the safe transfer of children and youth and the health and safety of caregivers. Therapists and Children’s Treatment Centers have had to reduce their capacity for in-person assessments to protect the health and safety of clients and staff. This has resulted in assessment delays and children waiting longer for equipment.
- Delays in the manufacture and delivery of essential mobility and accessibility equipment – Some of the equipment, or components are imported and shipping challenges at the border have delayed delivery of essential equipment.
- Cancellation or delays in the delivery of equipment to children and families – Reduced availability of in-person clinics and appointments has delayed the delivery and fitting of equipment. For equipment needed in the home pandemic restrictions and caution about the risk to the children, have impacted home installation and delivery of essential equipment.
Unfortunately, many of these challenges will likely continue for some time to come.