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‘He thrives on routine’: COVID-19 pandemic impacting Durham families affected by autism

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WATCH: April is World Autism Month. Aaron Streck has more on how COVID-19 is impacting children with autism and their families – Apr 13, 2020

April is World Autism Month, typically an opportunity for raising awareness of autism spectrum disorder and starting and having a conversation as a community.

But with COVID-19 impacting children with autism and their families, this year is different.

Anthony Ahou bounces on the trampoline, rides his bike and enjoys family walks. That sums up the nine-year-old’s outside timethese days.

“He thrives on routine,” said Virginia Mazzone-Ahou, Anthony’s mother and a member of the Durham Crew, a grassroots group advocating for autism rights.

With the coronavirus outbreak having disrupted Anthony’s everyday life, the last month has been a challenge for the family.

READ MORE: Durham residents explain how pets can be a lifeline during COVID-19 pandemic

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“Speech is on hold, everything is just at a complete stop and he’s feeling it and he doesn’t understand it,” said Mazzone-Ahou.

Anthony was diagnosed with severe non-verbal autism at the age of two. Virginia says not being able to go to school or see his therapist is affecting his development.

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“His focus is not there, so it’s coming through in behaviours he hasn’t had in such a long time — behaviours we worked on for numerous years in therapy,” said Mazzone-Ahou.

“He’s frustrated, he’s full of anxiety and I know I’m not alone.”

Despite taking part in activities at home, Mazzone-Ahou says she is starting to see a regression.

“He’s a lot louder, [there’s] a lot of pacing, hard to sit down and focus on any table work and he’s starting to destroy things in the house,” said Mazzone-Ahou.
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For children like Anthony, places like Grandview Children’s Centre remain closed, but programs are still being offered to families from a distance.

“This is new for all of us,” said Leslie Suite, the centre’s clinical director.

“It really is important to have some structure and to have a schedule. They’re not leaving to go to school, they’re not leaving to go to work,” said Suite.

“That routine is broken and now you’re starting a new routine.”

The centre has online courses for all their clients, including families affected by autism.

“What are some activities that you can do with your child at home using household items, so you don’t have to have the therapy supplies but you can still have really good interactions and engagements?” said Suite.

After spending more than a year fighting for the provincial government to change the Ontario Autism Plan, families like Virginia’s are hoping they won’t be forgotten.

When this is over, she adds, they will be relying on the government more than ever.

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