Patrick is an expressive 9-year-old who loves to be surrounded by the laughter and cheerful chatter of his fellow classmates. Like most other Ontario elementary students; however, it has been well over a month since Patrick has been in a classroom setting.
Earlier this week Ontario’s Minister of Education announced that all publicly funded schools in Ontario, which have been closed since March 12, 2020, will remain closed until at least May 31, 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For Patrick’s mom Carla, this news was especially hard to hear.
Patrick is both non-verbal and non-mobile, and he relies on a feeding tube for all of his meals. “He uses an adapted stroller outside and soon he probably needs a wheelchair. He also uses an adapted high-chair,” Carla says as she runs down the long list of costly equipment Patrick relies on to get through his day. The list also includes a bath chair, track lift, stander and car seat. Unfortunately, Patrick is no longer able to use some of these items as he is growing quickly and no longer fits into them.
Not having these essential pieces of equipment has been especially challenging for Patrick and his family during this period of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. “Since the pandemic happened he never leaves home,” Carla tells us, “we don’t have a proper car seat. It’s too small now because he is growing a lot. Even just to drive. We cannot even go out for fresh air.”
She goes on to explain how being isolated at home, away from his school environment, has had an effect on her son: “Patrick really loves to hear kids’ giggling sounds. Even if he isn’t interacting independently with kids, he loves all of the stimulation… It’s hard with only me doing one-way talking all day. All the interactions are all gone.” Carla tells us that Patrick’s mood has changed since the school closure. He is “grumpier” and “doesn’t want to sit in his chair”, and she attributes this to the drastic reduction in his social interactions.
Being completely isolated at home without proper equipment cannot only have worrisome effects on the emotional and mental wellbeing of children with physical disabilities, but it also can pose severe risks to their physical health. “Before the pandemic happened, [Patrick] went to school everyday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” says Carla, “he has lots of physical time using the stander and at school I didn’t worry about his leg and lower body functions.”
Now, however, Carla is concerned for the health of his knees and ankles. Having outgrown his old stander, and without access to his stander at school, Patrick is not able to access the equipment that would allow him to complete weight-bearing exercises. She worries that, if he does not get access to a stander soon, he will need surgery to address the issues that are developing in some of his lower body joints; issues that could also affect his ability to walk in the future.
A stander can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $7,400. With the high cost of Patrick’s other equipment, as well as his medications, Carla tells us that this is not something her family can easily purchase on their own. They have applied for funding from Easter Seals to help with the purchase of a stander, but unfortunately, like hundreds of other families, her family has been put on the waitlist.
As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, children like Patrick are struggling to cope. Without essential equipment they are facing safety issues not only for themselves and their parents but also issues that may seriously impact their long-term health and mobility.
Easter Seals is doing all we can to continue to support our families. However, with all of our fundraising events postponed, we cannot meet the current need for equipment funding.
Children like Patrick need your help now more than ever. We are all facing challenges right now, but we cannot leave children in the vulnerable sector behind.