COVID pandemic brings unique challenges to families with members on autism spectrum

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Getting the coronavirus, on top of having autism, puts an unimaginable amount of stress on a family. That’s what’s happened to one local teenager.

Families with members on the spectrum have a host of unique challenges that have been increased during the pandemic.

The Schweigert family is pleased with the support they’ve received, but say mental health for those on the spectrum is lacking in the Midwest.

“Before he had COVID, he had just hit a point where he had so much anxiety, and it was coming out as aggression. He was biting himself, he was trying to bite others hitting, kicking. And it was stuff he couldn’t control,” said Amber Schweigert. “And finding a place that would take him because he has autism is really hard. We spent two days calling all over South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota…before Yankton finally said they would take him.”

Despite the setback, Anthony is doing much better.

“I’m back in school and feeling fine,” Anthony said.

The family is also glad for support groups, like the Autism Society of the Black Hills.

The Sabrowskis, who serve as caregivers for their 30-year-old son, Patrik, started the group 25 years ago. Now the family is focusing their efforts to help others.

“The Rapid City Flame Special Olympics group, we host zoom social skills almost every day. And we have a half a dozen to a dozen athletes sign in almost everyday. And we just talk, we do bingo once a week, and we have a craft night. Everyone does painting or coloring. We talk about our day, what we’re wearing, what we ate, did we exercise. And just let them communicate with each other, because a lot of them are not getting to see each other either,” said Joseph Sabrowski.

For other families, that support has been vital.

Harper Keim said, “It means I’ve had to grow up really quickly to learn how to deal and help with them. And make sure that they are calm and knowing their triggers and knowing what could set them off for a meltdown.”

16-year-old Harper says it can be frustrating dealing with two younger brothers on the spectrum, ages ten and seven. She does all she can to support them, accepting the fact that she may one day be their caretaker.

Categories: Coronavirus, Local News