The pandemic has had a profound impact on people living with developmental disabilities and autism, but Thursday, at the start of Autism Awareness Month, some have renewed reason for hope as they begin to get vaccinated.
One of them is Javier Guberman, who is affected by autism and is one of more than 300 people with autism or other physical and intellectual challenges, served by the West Island regional health board, who got their first COVID-19 shots this week at a clinic in Beaconsfield.
It was given to those who live in intermediate and family-type settings and group homes, between ages 16 and 65.
“We found out last week that we were able to go and open up a vaccine clinic for our users,” Stephanie Torchin told Global News at the clinic. She’s coordinator of residential services for the regional health board’s services for intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders or physical disabilities.
Guberman is relieved.
“Maybe I get to do a little bit more activities,” he said shortly after getting his shot.
Those who don’t live in residences overseen by the health board still have to wait, but according to Torchin, the health board is preparing.
Families have long been asking the government to prioritize people with autism and those with disabilities for the COVID-19 vaccines. Torchin is thankful that those living in residences are now finally being inoculated.
“We have users that are living together and like we saw in the CHSLDs and the RPAs, that once someone gets COVID especially with the variants, it can spread like wildfire,” she pointed out.
Furthermore, she noted, members of this population are more at risk because many have chronic health issues like diabetes. She and other staff members say the pandemic has been rough on clients.
“There are no more visits (with) the families, no more activity, no more social activity, no more school,” explained nurse Jimmy Dalencourt. “So it was hard.”
He said staff had to adjust to help residents cope, but it wasn’t easy.
“We saw clients with a lot of behaviors,” he recalled. “The behaviors came back because we changed completely their routine without any explanation.”
Guberman said it was difficult for him, too, but says he’s now looking forward to one thing more than anything else with his first dose.
“Being able to visit my parents,” he stressed. “But I’ll wait for as long as I need to because I don’t want to infect them.”
In spite of how tough things are, he has a message for the public.
“This sucks,” he admitted, “but we gotta do it. We gotta push through it.”
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