Caring for children living with disabilities can be taxing and somewhat challenging. Caring for them during a pandemic assumes a new dimension. It could be frightening.
Currently, our world is facing a coronavirus pandemic and the high death rate can cause fear in the minds of mothers.
The World Health Organisation has stated that those who have pre-existing health challenges are more likely to develop complications, when affected with the coronavirus.
The questions that go through the mind of a mother whose child requires special care may include, “How do I protect my special needs child from the virus?” “How will I care for my child during this period?” “If I need to take my child to the hospital, how can I ensure that my child doesn’t contract the virus?” “What if my child’s caregiver infects my child with the virus?” “Can my child continue therapy during this period?” “If my child stops therapy and their health deteriorates, what will I do?” “If I contract the virus, who will take care of my special needs child?”
The questions are endless. Without a doubt, the reality of being infected by the virus can lead to a mother living in constant fear – the fear of the unknown. This may also lead to anxiety, depression and paralysis of the mind.
The question is, How can a mother live through a pandemic while caring for a special needs child?’
I suggest that you – the mother – should care for yourself, because it’s only when you are stable physically and mentally that you can care for another person. Guard your heart with all diligence and do not expose your mind to negative thoughts that will produce fear. Surround yourself with things that will build your faith and increase your hope for survival, to become bold and then you can face your fears. Also, take time to eat balanced meals, exercise, sleep and play.
Secondly, take all necessary precautions as stipulated by health organisations. In Nigeria, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is helping to protect the health of Nigerians. The centre has recommended safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus. They include the use of face masks in public, maintaining physical distance from others, washing hands regularly, using hand sanitiser when in public and cleaning surfaces at home with disinfectants.
Thirdly, I will recommend that a special needs mum should not overburden herself with tasks, especially when there is no live-in caregiver and she has to take care of her special needs child alone.
Fourthly, the special needs mum should have her doctor’s number at hand. She does not need to visit the hospital unless there is an emergency. A consultation can be done through any online platform which includes a WhatsApp video call. She can also engage her child’s therapist through this means.
The mother may want to buy drugs that her special needs child uses often and store in a safe place at home. She has to ensure that her child is given a balanced diet, multivitamins and food supplements to build the immune system.
Some schools have started online classes and you, the mother, have a part to play. If your special needs child is to participate in such classes, appeal to the officials at the school to create a flexible timetable that works for you and your special needs child. If you are unsuccessful in getting your child to learn through online classes, then ask the class teacher for other ways to engage your child physically.
This is a great time to start a garden where you can grow herbs and vegetables. A fresh supply will always be required.
In addition to all these, there are many indigent mothers who have children living with disabilities. These women use their daily sales to care for their special needs children and in most cases, they have other children to care for, too. Sometimes, their husbands are no longer with them. This may be due to many reasons but often times, it is because of the presence of a special needs child in the home.
In this pandemic, these women do not only fear that their children may contract the virus but because of the lockdown of movement (mandated by the government to curb the spread of the virus), they are unable to make sales. This means they have little or no money to feed, to buy drugs and pay other bills.
I advise these mothers to join support groups. There are many support groups in Nigeria where palliatives such as money, food and clothing are shared to members. The women in these groups also have access to medical personnel, therapists and other mothers who can help them survive the pandemic.
Currently, no one knows when the pandemic will end. In the meantime, people have to keep living their lives, albeit in a different way, to accommodate our ‘new normal.’ To every mum caring for a special needs child out there, I say, be strong, be positive and keep hope alive.
Ms Bukola Ayinde, a lawyer, author and disability inclusion advocate, is the Founder of Diary of a Special Needs Mum Initiative under P4:13 Foundation.