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Coronavirus Is Changing Available Resources For Adults Living With Disabilities

Lexi, left, and Jessica Schmidt, right, are quarantining together during the pandemic. They've also joined the 'Zoom Together' online program from Behavioral Health Associates of Broward, Counseling Centers of Goodman JFS.
Courtesy of Bonnie Schmidt
Lexi, left, and Jessica Schmidt, right, are quarantining together during the pandemic. They've also joined the 'Zoom Together' online program from Behavioral Health Associates of Broward, Counseling Centers of Goodman JFS.

For parents of adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the coronavirus pandemic has made everyday life especially difficult.

Socialization and life skills programs normally conducted in person, have had to adapt. If they've been able to adapt at all.

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"The in-person services came to an abrupt halt throughout the entire community and really disrupted the structure and routine for so many individuals with disabilities," said Samantha Sehter, the program manager for the disability services department at Goodman Jewish Family Services, called Joshua's Path.

"Typically, when a family calls us, we have pages and pages of referrals to give them," she said. "But due to COVID, when we were receiving these calls about young adults and looking for engagement opportunities, there was virtually nothing."

Bonnie Schmidt, 63, a mom in Coral Springs, can relate. She feels like her family have been overlooked through the ebb and flow of pandemic closings and scattered re-openings.

"We fight so hard as parents for inclusion into so many activities," Schmidt said. "Our population is left out of every single thing from sports to health insurance changes, to housing and they were just forgotten in every aspect of life when this hit."

Schmidt is mom to 36 year-old Jessica, who lives with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"She was seizure free for 30 years. And when the pandemic started, her seizures came back," she said. "I think just the anxiety of everything and the change."

Schmidt is also the guardian for Kim, 34, who lives on the autism spectrum. And her friend's adult daughter, 27 year-old Lexi — who lives with Down syndrome — is quarantining with them so the women don't get lonely.

All three women participate in a new program called ZoomTogether from Goodman JFS's disability department. It's largely facilitated by Sehter.

"Some of us are tired, frustrated, scared, but having a mental health aspect to this program as well also lets us see some red flags," Sehter said.

And professionals at the nonprofit have been seeing some more of those red flags. People consistently saying they feel sad. Sehter said the mental health aspect of ZoomTogether enables her to connect individuals to counseling.

"It's combating, you know, social isolation and skill regression, but it's also just making sure that all of their needs are met," she said. "We teach life skills on Mondays. Social skills on Wednesdays, and executive functioning skills and critical thinking skills on Fridays."

It's a six-week program, and there are more than 30 students. The ZoomTogether program is taking names for a waiting list.

The nonprofit's services are open to everyone. If you're looking for help, you can call the information and referral line, or look for COVID-19 resources, here.

Schmidt said all three women in her house look forward to the structure of the program, especially when they are used to busy days working with her.

They would work with Schmidt at the candle company she co-founded in Coral Springs with Lexi's mom, called ScentsAbility. The company employs people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In between, Jessica would go to other programs for socialization.

"We normally have 15 young adults with all different disabilities working with us. But right now, we only have a few that actually come work that are not medically challenged," Schmidt said.

She said ZoomTogether gives the women in her house an activity they feel proud to be a part of.

"I refuse to have Jessica sitting home without a purpose, without any community involvement, without any place to go that she feels part of the world," she said.

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Caitie Switalski is a rising senior at the University of Florida. She's worked for WFSU-FM in Tallahassee as an intern and reporter. When she's in Gainesville for school, Caitie is an anchor and producer for local Morning Edition content at WUFT-FM, as well as a digital editor for the station's website. Her favorite stories are politically driven, about how politicians, laws and policies effect local communities. Once she graduates with a dual degree in Journalism and English,Caitiehopes to make a career continuing to report and produce for NPR stations in the sunshine state. When she's not following what's happening with changing laws, you can catchCaitielounging in local coffee shops, at the beach, or watching Love Actually for the hundredth time.