Roanoke family shares how COVID-19 pandemic challenges affected children with autism

‘Once you break that routine, it scars their head and their life.’

Reporter Alexus Davila spoke with a local family who was hit hard by the changes brought on by the pandemic

ROANOKE, Va. – COVID-19 led to major learning loss for children, but without interaction and an inability to have therapy, children with autism faced a much greater challenge.

A Roanoke family is still reeling from those strains but turned to an online group at a time of need.

Clocks, dates and the sound of the alarm all play a crucial role in the Banuelos Alvarez family.

These tools help Zuheil Alvarez Cortes’ raise her four children, three of them have autism.

But when coronavirus struck, schools shut down and the therapist assistants in Alvarez Cortes’s home were forced to leave.

“They are used to a routine,” she said. “And once you break that routine, it scars their head and their life.”

The chaos did not just lead to child learning loss but a disturbing reset for her children, especially for her 16-year-old son Gibi.

“Unfortunately, we had several trips to the ER or we had to call 911 because he was physically aggressive and we could not hold him,” she said. “His siblings would have to cover their ears or get scared "

An educational study found children with autism showed more aggression, meltdowns and stimming after school closures due to the coronavirus.

Stressed and searching for answers, Cortes found herself relying on a Facebook community that offered a safe space and resources called Roanoke Valley Autism Support Group.

“Well, for me, it has been my therapy and to know that I am not by myself,” Alvarez Cortes said.

She met people like Emily Barry who said the local interaction helps families take a step forward.

“You get into this period of isolation that happens because people outside of that immediate family, they kind of get afraid and they don’t know what to do.”

With April being Autism Awareness Month, Barry said she urges people to ask questions and to stop isolating people with autism.

Both mothers say their main goal is to teach their children independence and can only do that with a community of support.

Alvarez Cortes said returning back to school is a “lifesaver” for her children but returning to the original routine will still take time.

About the Author:

Alexus joined 10 News in October 2020.