How to speak to people with Intellectual Disability about COVID – 19

Do provide information

Often people think that children and adults with intellectual disabilities do not understand what is happening in society and exclude them from conversations. This is often untrue, unsafe and goes against their constitutional right to receive information that could impact their health. While the levels of understanding will vary, many people with intellectual disabilities have already noticed the change in lifestyle, the anxiety in their community and they would have heard the repetition of the word ‘Coronavirus’ – it is everywhere.

So step 1 is to put together a plan to provide your children and adults with intellectual disabilities with the correct information.

Find the best way to share information

Many clients with intellectual disabilities could have a barrier to communicating and this could be a barrier in receiving or understanding information such as:

  • a hearing or visual impairment
  • decreased understanding of language
  • decreased ability to process information
  • decreased ability to store information/memory issues.

What this means is that YOU need to find the best way to relay the information regarding COVID-19.

Most importantly, help people with intellectual disabilities remain calm and enjoy the time at home with family. Explain that we can and will get through this, but everyone needs to work together and stay at home.  

Important points to share

  • COVlD-19 is a new type of virus (that’s like a germ) that makes people sick. It can also be called the Coronavirus
  • People get Coronavirus when they come into contact with other people who already have the virus. They might not know they have it and if they cough or sneeze or talk, the virus spreads from their mouth and either onto other people or onto stuff around them like tables or clothing.
  • People who get the virus might have a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath (that’s when it feels like it’s difficult to breathe).
  • Most people who get sick will be able to stay home and get better but some people will need to go to hospital.
  • We can help stop the spread of the virus by washing our hands with soap and water. We wash our hands slowly, making sure to wash between fingers and all over our hands. We can also use hand sanitiser.
  • We wash our hands regularly and try really hard not to touch our eyes, mouth and face during the day.
  • We can also slow down the spread of the virus by staying at home. You may have noticed that your school or workplace is closed for now and you are at home. We will all need to stay home for a little bit to try to help not spread the virus. We won’t be able to go visit our favourite places right now, the government will tell us when it’s safe to do so.
  • It is normal to feel scared or worried that you might get the virus – talk to the people who care for you about it and they will help you. Remember, not everyone will get sick with this virus but you could still get a cold or flu or even a tummy bug so don’t be afraid to tell them when you’re not feeling well.
  • The government has placed our country under ‘Lockdown’ this means we all have to stay in our homes to stay protected from the virus. We will be safe in our homes and all look after each other. We will still be able to get the things we need like food and water.
    We must not panic.

Tips to help someone with intellectual disability manage during COVID-19 Lockdown

  • Help the person understand the Coronavirus and try to include people with intellectual disabilities in the conversations to learn about the virus.
  • What to say: The government has placed our country under ‘Lockdown‘ this means we all have to stay in our homes to stay protected from the virus. We will be safe in our homes and all look after each other.
    We will still be able to get the things we need like food and water.
    We must not panic.
  • Manage the amount of news they watch and listen to about COVlD-19, too much can make anyone anxious and scared.
  • As far as possible, plan the day and include activities such as puzzles, drawing, reading/being read to, exercise, chores etc.
  • Include those with intellectual disabilities in family conversations, games and chores.
  • Use pictures for reminders to wash hands regularly e.g. put pictures up in the bathroom of handwashing sequence.
  • Use pictures to do an emotional ‘check-in‘ daily – you could do this with emoji’s on a cell phone or draw happy – sad – sceared – sleepy – sick faces on a page and ask the child or adult to point at how they are feeling in the morning and the evening. This will help manage any anxiety they may have and will also help them speak to you about when they feel sick. Many people with intellectual disabilities might be sacred to say they feel sick because they’re scared to go to hospital or could even be afraid they may die.
  • Remember that many children and adults with intellectual disabilities do best with routine. So ask their school or protective workplace for a copy of their daily routine and try to stick to those meal and activity times to limit confusion and frustration OR if that is not possible, develop a new yet similar routine as a family.
  • If you have access to the internet, research activities. There are loads available on YouTube and via general Google searches. Activities like making things from recycled items, baking, cooking, playing matching or memory games or even working in the garden are good ideas.
  • The internet is also a good way to stay in contact with friends and family – can you set up a WhatsApp group for their friends? Or a time for chats with other people in their lives?
  • Most importantly, help people with intellectual disabilities remain calm and enjoy the time at home with family. Explain that we can and will get through this, but everyone needs to work together and stay at home.
  • If you’re in a group home or residential facility, and have stopped visitors, explain why their family will not be visiting. You could:
    • Set up WhatsApp video calls with family members
    • Put up a calendar explaining how long the physical distancing will last and when they can expect visitors again [this is difficult as we’re not sure at this point but a month is a good place to start and explain when it needs to be extended]
    • As far as possible, try to stick to normal routines. If therapists/educators are not visiting, try to do some group exercise or group craft activities. There are many free videos like this on YouTube.

Most importantly, help people with intellectual disabilities remain calm and enjoy the time at home with family.

WCFID Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability
info@wcfid.co.za
www.wcfid.co.za