Support for LAist comes from
Made of L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This


The Coronavirus Makes Life Tougher For Those With Developmental Disabilities

(Photo: Kelli McClintock on Unsplash)
Our June member drive is live: protect this resource!
Right now, we need your help during our short June member drive to keep the local news you read here every day going. This has been a challenging year, but with your help, we can get one step closer to closing our budget gap. Today, put a dollar value on the trustworthy reporting you rely on all year long. We can't hold those in power accountable and uplift voices from the community without your partnership.

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

Everyone is struggling with the lifestyle changes forced on us by COVID-19, but things are extra tough for people with a developmental disability -- and their families.

With support services mainly moving online, some things are falling by the wayside.

Support for LAist comes from

"I don't have that support in the afternoon through the therapist, and so I have to pick up the responsibility all day long of keeping her engaged and doing all the things the therapist would have normally done, or the pre-school teacher would have normally done," said Jasmin Taitano of Redlands, whose daughter has autism.

Jennifer St. Jude of Lancaster said her two kids with autism are missing services like life skills instruction. While they are available virtually, she said, her children struggle with the eye contact required for Zoom or FaceTime.


Get our daily newsletters for the latest on COVID-19 and other top local headlines.

Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

St. Jude, who also has autism, said the uncertainty surrounding the new coronavirus is especially hard for her family right now.

"Not knowing that light at the end of the tunnel, not having that definitive time-frame is just like [a] total trigger for people on the spectrum," she said.

The best she can do right now, St. Jude said, is remind her kids -- and herself -- about history: that we've gotten through worse with less, like the 1918 flu pandemic.

Roughly one in six children in the U.S. aged 3-17 were diagnosed with a developmental disability between 2009 and 2017, according to a report cited by the CDC.

Support for LAist comes from

Some children with a developmental disability suffer from more severe cognition issues, and the loss of in-person services can make it extremely challenging for parents to care for these kids now that they're "untethered," said Dr. Shafali Jeste, a pediatric neurologist and professor at UCLA.

"I see kids who have really, really challenging behaviors," said Jeste. She has patients with limited language skills who have aggressive or self-injurious behaviors that are managed in school, with medication, or both.

"I worry that those symptoms, those behaviors, can get a lot worse," Jeste said.


At the same time, some safety valves parents and caregivers rely on in their day-to-day have been altered.

"Day programming and respite services are more challenging to deliver right now because the way people interact has changed," the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) said in an emailed statement.

Regional centers -- nonprofits that contract with the state to provide community support for people with a developmental disability and their families -- "have increased authorizations for in-home respite care because of school and day program closures," according to the DDS.

"However, some families have not been comfortable allowing someone in their home to provide respite services, and some providers have limited the number of homes workers may go to," the agency added.

Many people with a developmental disability have other health problems, which presents yet another challenge, especially when COVID-19 has parents fearful of going to an emergency room because they're worried about infection.

"I've had patients with seizures, where the child has the seizure at home and the parents are nervous to bring them into the hospital because of the concerns about getting sick," said Jeste.

While many kids with developmental disabilities are overwhelmed right now, Jeste said it's not universally true. Some children, at least for now, are enjoying the break from school and the chance to spend more time with their families.

Still, Jeste said she sees a lot of kids with worsening behaviors and sleep issues.

"I don't think kids are going to regress irreversibly," Jeste said. "But I do believe that without sustained support, we will see kids not make gains in the way they might need to."


Most Read