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Services for those with special needs must return

Features

STRANDED Iseult McHugh from Dooagh, Achill is one of many people who have been deprieved of access to regular services, in her case at Rehab Care in Castlebar.

John McHugh says lockdown has been a difficult time for their daughter Iseult

Achill
Anton McNulty

WHEN the Covid-19 lockdown resulted in the closure of the RehabCare services in Castlebar, John McHugh was at first relieved as his daughter Iseult who attended the service has underlying health issues.
However, as the closure continues well into the summer, he feels that services for children with special needs has to get up and running soon as the lockdown has caused difficulties for them and their families.
“Generally for young people and families the sooner the service is up and running the better. “Of course lockdown has been tough for lots of people, but it has been tough for people who have children with special needs and they are not getting a service,” he told The Mayo News.
Twenty-year-old Iseult McHugh from Dooagh on Achill Island started attending the Rehab Care in the National Learning Network in November having finished her second level education in Coláiste Pobail Acla. She has a combination of a learning disability and physical issues and John explained that she had settled in well and was progressing when the lockdown started.
John and his wife Maggie set a daily routine for her in their Achill home with educational and recreational activities but despite their best efforts he admits it was difficult and feels Iseult has regressed.
“It has been difficult and been restricting in a way as we both have been trying to get on with our work as well. You have to make sure she has her set of activities or that she can occupy herself. It is difficult because of the nature of her requirements. She gets bored and restless and you can see her regressing back into behavioural patterns and a regression in her when she is not in her regular routine.
“We try to counteract it but with somebody like Iseult who has special needs, if she isn’t in her daily routine and if she doesn’t have something to look forward to and engage in activities every day she does regress.
“She regresses in her behaviour and reengages in patterns of behaviour which are repetitive. One of her things is turning things around in circles. In a way it is a sensory response to boredom but also anxiety so in that regard when her routine is up and running it keeps her moving forward and engaged. When that is not there the signs of regression starts to emerge.”

Routine
Both John and Maggie worked from home during the lockdown and the daily routine involved starting at nine with one of them dealing with Iseult until lunchtime and the other taking over in the afternoon. John felt they were lucky in a way that living in Achill they had the freedom to go outside for walks during the height of the lockdown.
John explained that Iseult misses the services in Castlebar and ‘asks to go back nearly every day’. For the first couple of weeks there was no engagement between Iseult and the Rehab Care services but in recent weeks there has been contact with staff through Zoom.
John and Maggie have so far unsuccessfully been battling the HSE to fund transport to bring Iseult and other adults with special needs in Achill to Castlebar. As  a result they have to drive her up and down every day. They feel it is a sacrifice they have to make and will continue to do so whenever the services recommence.
While there has been no official confirmation date for the services re-opening, John understands it will be the middle of August before it recommences. Like a number of parents of children with special needs, he believes that they should have been accommodated earlier in the year.
“Once the virus settled down and was under control we were hoping services would open up earlier. I could imagine other kids with special needs being out of school would be very difficult for the families and for the children. They need the routine and the learning and being occupied. I am not up to date with all the details of closing the schools but I’d imagine special ed classes within schools could have been kept going and reopened once the worse of the virus passed. Special needs children attending the school system should be offered some supports during the summer,” he said.