Covid-19: Nurse opens up about work & caring for autistic kids

Covid-19: Nurse opens up about work & caring for autistic kids

- A single mother of two autistic children has spoken about how overwhelming it is working as a nurse during lockdown and caring for her children at the same time

- The autistic community has made a desperate call to government to ease the lockdown for people living with autism, expressing that it has an adverse effect on them

- An educational psychologist said movement breaks are imperative for autistic people for their own sense of control and functioning within their family and other environments

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By Neesha Maharaj - Freelance Journalist

A single mother of two autistic sons has opened up to about the challenges of not only raising her sons on her own, but also about the effects of the lockdown on her kids and her professional career as a nurse.

This comes after the autistic community and organisations representing autistic people called on the National Department of Health to ease lockdown regulations so confinement does not impede their well-being.

Lindiwe Ndlovu from Edenvale, Johannesburg, is a single mother of two autistic boys aged 12 and 6 years old. She's also a grandmother to a 7-year-old who has the same neurodevelopment disability.

Ndlovu supports the call for the government to ease lockdown rules at all levels and make special concessions for autistic people to go outdoors.

Life in lockdown: Ndlovu's days are riddled with meltdowns

Life has been overwhelming of late for Ndlovu, a primary health care nurse, who as an essential service worker, has to report to work during lockdown at the Edenvale Clinic and see to the needs of her three autistic children as well.

“Life has been more difficult than usual for me. I had to go to work each morning knowing that my life may be in danger because of the coronavirus. The clinic where I work has become one of the government testing centres for the coronavirus.
"I am also concerned by the fact that my children’s lives may be endangered because, as autistic people, they don’t understand the meaning of social distancing or the need to wear a mask."

Speaking exclusively to, Ndlovu explained what life is like now:

“Returning home after work I have to sometimes deal with meltdowns from the children, especially my older son who has an extreme case of autism.
"My children cannot speak but are physically fit. Being hyperactive, he (older son) climbed over the fence a few times and went out on the street. He also recently climbed onto the house's roof during lockdown while I was at work. The fire department had to be called in to get him off the roof."

Ndlovu said while she understood the need for the lockdown restrictions, life has become extremely difficult for her because the special school her children attend closed down indefinitely and her live-in nanny, who cares for the three autistic children, chose to return to her home country, Lesotho.

“I had to leave all three autistic children in the care of my daughter, 24. She is intellectually impaired and was diagnosed as a slow learner when she was of school-going age. She could not cope very well with looking after the children and I will get calls at work with complaints from her.
"The children can have meltdowns at any time and will scream for minutes at a time. Sometimes when one stops screaming the other might start. This resulted in the neighbours complaining. Somebody called social services. I also felt harassed by neighbours on one occasion this year and I had to call the police,” she said.

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A mother's worry: Who will take care of her children if they lost her?

Ndlovu, who was forced to go on leave at the end of April, said she has to make arrangements to employ a new nanny to take care of her children before she returns to work next week.

Ndlovu returns to work fearful of the risk of contracting the coronavirus. While she takes all the relevant hygiene measures when returning home from work before coming in contact with her children, she often considers who will take care of her children if they lost her.

She reiterated the call by autistic support organisations to have special times allocated for autistic people to go outdoors.

“When my children are outdoors in nearby areas it helps calm them. It also helps us as caregivers being outdoors,” she added.

Autism organisation says exercise concession might exacerbate the challenges for autistic people

Liza Aziz, Chairperson of Action in Autism (AiA) has been instrumental in the call to the National Department of Health to make special concessions that will enable autistic people to go outdoors at quieter times.

Her request to the National Director of Health came in the wake of desperate calls from NGOs and caregivers of autistic people who found that being confined to their homes at all times was not good for the wellbeing and health of the autistic.

Level 4 lockdown makes provision for the public to exercise or walk outdoors between 6 and 9am. However, this will not help autistic people, Aziz believes.

“Level four regulations met some of the demands but this is not enough for our families. In fact, the 6am to 9am concession for exercise might exacerbate the challenges for our autistic people.
"Everybody is out on the road at that time and our people have a social disability. Quieter spaces are ideal for them to exercise in,” said Aziz.

Educational psychologist says external movement is imperative for autistic people

An educational psychologist at Action in Autism Early Learning Intervention Centre, Sabashnie Govender, said autism spectrum disorder was a condition where people have sensory regulation difficulties in addition to social communication delay.

She said autistic people take comfort from a regulated daily routine that includes multiple movement breaks and outdoor activities.

“Meltdowns and internalising behaviours such as depression and anxiety increases without breaks. These breaks are imperative for autistic people for their own sense of control and functioning within their family and other environments,” she added.

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