THERE TO CARE Martina McAndrew (right), the winner of the 2013 Mayo Carer of the Year, pictured receiving her award from Eileen McNamara, Mayo Outreach.
Lockdown was a difficult adjustment for many people, but particularly those with intellectual disabilities.
For both carers and service providers alike, non-essential disability services ground to a halt in mid-March. While the change in routine was a novelty for many, the loss of routine was stressful for many people with intellectual disabilities.
Martina McAndrew from Glengad in Erris – whose daughter Shauna is autistic – says it took her daughter some time to adjust to life under lockdown.
Since leaving secondary school in 2018, Shauna has been a part of the school leaver’s group which meets regularly at the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) centre in Belmullet.
Martina says the closure of the centre shortly after St Patrick’s Day came very suddenly.
“There was no was no warning or notice given at all and you were left saying ‘How am I going to explain this to her?’ It was a total shock to her,” she says.
“Everything else closed so her routine of going into town Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday was gone. The hairdresser she goes to on Saturday was closed as well, so it was all pulled down on top of her and it was awfully tough on her in the first few weeks.”
Martina says it took several weeks before Shauna (19) understood the reality of life with Covid-19.
“She went back in her mind to where she was in the first few weeks after she left school when she didn’t know what was expected of her or where she was going to go.
“She started re-enacting things in her head and going back to bad behaviour. Little by little she got used to it. Myself or her father would bring her out for walks. The more she got out for the walks, the better.”
Mask-wearing and WhatsApp video calls were other staples of lockdown that Shauna found difficult to get used to initially.
“She’s very friendly with one of the workers in there, Margaret Walker,” explained Martina.
“During the lockdown they started doing WhatsApp and the first time she saw Margaret on a video call, she freaked. She didn’t understand why this person she cared about so much was on a video call,” she says.
“Then they decided they would come out on the bus to see her, but they were all masked up and she couldn’t understand why they had to wear masks and she got very distressed.
“I started bringing her into town to meet Margaret for half an hour while they’d be social distanced,” she adds.
Martina, who was awarded Mayo Carer of The Year in 2013, was involved in setting up the school leavers group in Belmullet which Shauna currently attends three days a week.
Prior to lockdown, Shauna would travel by bus or by car to the IWA centre in Logmore, which assists people with physical and intellectual disabilities. The centre is also used as a day service by those living in the adjoining wheelchair-adapted homes.
Weekly activities would typically include cookery, gardening, computer skills, work experience as well as bus trips to the cinema, horse-riding, and visits to the Castlebar IWA centre.
Since reopening, the hours have been changed from 10am to 4.30pm to 11am to 2pm. Service users are split into pods during the day while strict hand hygiene and cleaning regimes are in place. Meals are no longer cooked in the centre and are instead purchased from outside.
Given the underlying health conditions of some service users and the inability to properly physically distance, the bus service is currently unavailable.
For Martina and Shauna, this means a 40-kilometre round trip to the centre from their Glengad home three days a week.
Despite the changes which are likely to remain for the foreseeable future, Martina says that a return to some form of routine has been good for Shauna.
“She seems to be okay with it, but they can’t do things in the group together as much as they used to,” she says.
“I think the HSE advertisements on the television were very good for her because she’s great at washing her hands and wearing her mask. She’s aware that she has to keep her distance and when she goes into the hairdressers she’ll look in first to see if there’s many in before she goes inside.
“Shauna needed the routine badly like us all.”