Harvey Brings Unique Challenges For Those With Disabilities -by Suzanne Garofalo, Houston Chronicle/TNS | August 30, 2017

Residential neighborhoods in Houston sit in floodwater in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

HOUSTON — The upending of normalcy during the worst tropical weather system ever to hit Houston is particularly hard on those with special needs, and disability advocates and families are working to help them cope.

The Autism Society of Texas has providers from Austin, as well as partners in Clear Lake and north-central Houston, heading to shelters to offer resources and support, executive director Suzanne Potts said.

The organization is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross to assess needs. What’s en route: sensory-support bags containing stuffed animals, fidget toys, weighted blankets, earplugs and noise-canceling headphones, notepads and crayons.

The Red Cross has asked for respite care and behavioral-intervention guidance for those struggling to adjust to the crowds, noise and lighting at shelters, including the one at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, Potts said. Her outfit has advised creating a dimly lit quiet space, if possible, and posting a visual schedule like many people with autism rely on to know when meals will be served, for example.

The Autism Society also is distributing H-E-B and Walmart gift cards to anyone displaced by the storm — handy for those with dietary restrictions.

Potts suggested people at shelters find other families of those with special needs for comfort. And whether at a shelter or home, Potts, a licensed social worker, offered caregivers this advice: “Focus on the here and now — don’t look too far forward or too far back … Manage your own self-care. Take a walk if it’s safe.

“Give yourself a break. If your child is getting more screen time than normal, that’s OK. … Lower your standards and just get through today.”

For those with physical disabilities, Easter Seals of Greater Houston is aiming to speed recovery for affected families whose costly and vital medical equipment, wheelchairs and assistive technology devices are not covered by insurance. Its case managers stand ready to help.

“Emergency funding for our clients is of the utmost importance to help them in their time of need, when our families with children and adults with disabilities are already stressed and stretched to the max financially and emotionally,” the group’s Facebook page reads.

Staying occupied will keep cabin fever at bay, said Ingrid Monroy, whose nonprofit Mikey’s Place provides resources to families raising children with disabilities in Greater Houston.

In addition to having kids play cards or work on math skills, she recommended getting creative and resourceful to help them manage. Her son, Mikey, a stroke survivor, has been riding his adaptive bicycle in the garage.

“Think old-school entertainment — especially if the power is off,” Monroy said. “They need some kind of physical activity to burn off steam.”

© 2017 Houston Chronicle
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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