Autism community desperate for help amid COVID pandemic, stay-at-home orders

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (KABC) -- Since the start of stay-at-home orders, the Harris family in Lake Forest has had a tough time adjusting.

One of their twins, 7-year-old Dana, has severe autism. The moment her school shut down, things took a turn for the worst.

"If you put a wrench in her routine, it's all over. The self harm happens. When they went on distant learning in March, it threw a wrench in her - this is not the way it's supposed to go," said Jill Harris, who says school has helped her daughter grow so much through the years - learning some spoken and sign language. Her self harm even started to decline, until this summer, when she normally would have been in summer school.

"The self harming, the biting others, it all started up again," she said.

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The Harris family isn't alone. Autism advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, says they're receiving a huge number of calls for help. Their Autism response team has answered more than 1,600 calls, emails and chats to provide support and point families to resources. Plus, their advocacy team is working with lawmakers at the local, state and federal level to make sure the autism community isn't left out of the discussion when it comes to funding and resources.

With distance learning starting in less than two weeks and Jill's husband going back to work tomorrow, desperation is reaching its peak, despite having an ABA behavioral therapist come to the house for a couple hours each day.

"She is a child that needs that structure and I can only do so much at home and ABA can only do so much at home, where school is very structured," Harris said.

Although she says going back to school would be ideal, Jill admits it's a tough call, since Dana also has medical issues. It comes down to weighing the pros and cons.

"I feel like, if they used the proper gear like the masks and everything, cause we've gotten her tolerated with it, and we've gotten her surprisingly wearing a shield, I feel like they could work with that, cause I do know COVID is serious," she said.

For a list of available resources, families can go to autismspeaks.org or email help@autismspeaks.org.
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