Children With Developmental Disabilities Adjust To New Normal In Pandemic

Download Audio

Being holed up at home with kids, partner, or other family members can be tough.

But some people now have the added challenge of staying home with children who have intense developmental disabilities — children who are normally in day programs or live in group homes.

Patty and Mike McLaughlin of Peabody have a daughter, 28-year-old Kara. They decided to have her live with them right now, for the first time since 2014.

Kara normally lives at a residence operated by Bridgewell, which runs programs for people with disabilities in the Merrimack Valley-North Shore area.

If her parents didn't take her home, they wouldn't have been able to see her at all during the coronavirus outbreak.

Kara has a disability that acts similar to autism. It's a chromosomal disorder called CHAMP1. Patty McLaughlin told WBUR's All Things Considered host Lisa Mullins that having her daughter home is a welcome adjustment. And a difficult one.

"It's challenging. It's 24-7," McLaughlin says. [Kara] is a good sleeper, thank God. But, you know, it's just keeping her occupied. She doesn't understand why she's not at [her Bridgewell residence], why can't we go to the mall."

McLaughlin says she and Kara struggle with one of Kara's behaviors in particular.

"She perseverates a lot on her clothes. She sees things that aren't there on her shirt and she wants to change [her outfit]," McLaughlin says. "I've locked the door to her room. We lay out the clothes at night. 'This is what you going to wear tomorrow,' and that's it."

McLaughlin says one of the bright parts of having her daughter home is not having to worry about what or how Kara is doing.

Kara takes part in online Zumba classes Bridgewell started offering in partnership with Riverside Community Care after the pandemic started. Her mom does the dance-exercise class with her. It's helping them establish a routine.

Judith Doherty is the Program Director of Bridgewell’s Family Support Center. And she has two adult children with autism.

She says for kids with disabilities such as autism, certain needs stand out in challenging times like this.

"Virtually all of them need structure and need to anticipate what's going to happen, and so it was a real concern that it wasn't just two days, a weekend or a vacation," Doherty says. "It was an endless time without structure."

This segment aired on April 15, 2020.


Headshot of Lisa Mullins

Lisa Mullins Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.


Headshot of Lynn Jolicoeur

Lynn Jolicoeur Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.



More from WBUR

Listen Live