Schools are reopening, but disabled children have been forgotten



Any parent who has rushed their child to the hospital as they struggled to breathe, hunched over with their lips turning blue, was understandably horrified when COVID-19 arrived at our doorstep.

My teenage son Aaron has Down syndrome. He’s had pneumonia several times, twice so severely that he was hospitalized. I never needed a study to know that he is at high-risk risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19, but health policy decisions rely on statistics and studies, not the stories of mothers.

The first Canadian study about the effects of COVID-19 on people with developmental disabilities was published in July by Dr. Yona Lunsky in the Disability and Health Journal. It showed that for adults with Down syndrome, mortality rates were 6.59 times higher than those without intellectual and developmental disabilities.

This study validated our decision to pull Aaron out of in-person school in March, 2020, when the pandemic began brewing in Canada. He never went back to school, and immediately all his social supports – academics, extracurricular activities, therapies, athletics, respite care and youth workers – disappeared.

The public system has completely abandoned him and seemingly other children who are high risk, too. This includes, shockingly, the pediatric medical community. I waited for our local children’s hospital to make a comment about the terrible losses endured by children who were high-risk for COVID-19. There has been nothing but silence.

The irony is strong. Who occupies the rosters of pediatricians and fills the beds in children’s hospitals? Kids who are disabled and those who have chronic conditions, many of whom are high-risk for contracting and dying from COVID-19.

A recent Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table report written by medical experts, including those at children’s hospitals such as SickKids, outlines guidance for a return