Children with cognitive challenges hit hard by COVID-19

Source: Children with cognitive challenges hit hard by COVID-19 – NewsDay Zimbabwe

CHILDREN with intellectual and developmental challenges have been severely affected during the COVID-19 lockdown period, a non-governmental organisation has said.
National director of Zimcare Trust, Nicholas Aribino told NewsDay that some of the children were abused during the COVID-19 lockdown as relatives and parents got weary of taking care of them.


Zimcare Trust focuses on the needs of minors.

Aribino said the closure of schools resulted in most children with cognitive challenges that are usually taken care of by experts and social workers at Zimcare institutions growing restless due to lack of activity. Others were also affected by failure to access medication for ailments like epilepsy.

“These kids need psychosocial support, stimulation and mental health care, and lockdown at home is not the best environment for them,” Aribino said.

“Support for such children can be received from special schools where there is stimulation and different activities but during the lockdown such kids are deprived of that kind of therapy.

“Children with cognitive challenges can have a disability which co-occurs with another disability. Some of our students have epilepsy and about 30% to 35% of persons with intellectual challenges have codiagnosis or concurrence; whereby what is visible is the physical disability, but they have another disability,” he said.

During the lockdown, Aribino said most Zimcare students needed medication for different ailments like epilepsy but movement was restricted and it affected access to treatment. He said some of the children suffered from autism.

“The biggest problem was that social workers and programme officers for special institutions like Zimcare were not considered as essential services. We encountered a situation whereby our members of staff who were going to distribute essential medication for children with intellectual challenges were turned back.

“There is also a bi-directional link between poverty and disability. Many families of these children are very poor. At our institutions we give the children food and medicines, and during the lockdown some were affected by hunger. We had to distribute food and drugs to them after lockdown restrictions were eased,” he said.

Aribino said Zimcare received reports of neglected children and other forms of abuse, because their parents were busy looking for money as companies were closed, resulting in children being left at home without proper care. He said some parents even phoned Zimcare institutions saying they could not cope the kids who needed specialist care.

With the opening of schools soon, Aribino said one of the biggest challenges that Zimcare institutions would face was how to acquire sufficient masks.

“Most of these children have cerebral palsy and they drool lots of saliva. It means there is need for a bunch of face masks which will be constantly changed,” he said.
Aribino said support in terms of masks, food and medicines for the children during the forthcoming school term, was essential.

Unicef in its report on child disability and COVID-19 said for children with disabilities home schooling would require a lot of resources including assistive devices or special education curriculum that accommodate the child’s learning needs.

“Quarantine constraints and overall burden faced by families might also place children with disabilities at increased risk of discrimination and to being exposed to violent discipline methods in the household,” Unicef said.