COVID-19 and Developmental Disability

Last updated: Monday, March 30, 2020

The purpose of this page is to provide essential information and to support people with a developmental disability and their families through these challenging and uncertain times of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

It is critical that everyone begin intensive physical social distancing immediately. As much as possible, limit contact with people outside your family.

There are several FREE COVID-19 weekly support calls listed at the bottom of this page, specifically designed for families. See Free Family Supports!

FAQ COVID-19 & Developmental Disability:

How do I explain COVID19 to a person with a developmental disability?

What are the questions that other families are thinking about that I can consider?

How can we reduce the risk of getting (and spreading) COVID19? [including supporters]

How do we battle loneliness & boredom during physical distancing?

How do we maintain our mental health during this time?

How do we care for someone that has COVID19?

What are the opportunities for growth during this time?

What do I do if I am in a crisis situation?

What FREE Supports are available for families?

Simple explanations of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and related topics:

(Note: These CBC Kids videos aren’t just for kids; they provide useful explanations of the topics.)

Explanation of why people are alarmed about the coronavirus

Explanation of social distancing

Explanation of flattening the curve

Can I go outside during the COVID19 pandemic?

[PDF] COVID-19 Information By and For People with Disabilities *Note: This resource doesn’t talk about physical distancing. The guidance is to keep 2 meters distance between yourself and others.

Q: How do I explain when the physical distancing will be over to my family member with a developmental disability? A: The government has told us to stay inside until at least (date). On (date) the government will tell us if it is okay to go back to normal, or we need to continue to stay inside for longer.

What risks and questions are other families evaluating:

(Below are some of the developmental disability related risks and questions we need to assess in the context of our own family situation. )

  • What is our health risk; Immune deficiencies, existing health conditions, and age?
  • What are our hygiene practices?
  • What physical contact do we have with others? What would it look like to minimize physical contact with others?
  • If personal supporters cancel their support, or we cancel personal supporters, how can we still support our family member? How long could we sustain decreased personal supporters?
  • What impacts would reduced supporters have on our physical, emotional, and mental health?
  • With physical social distancing, how can we maintain connection?
  • With physical social distancing, how can we still have a meaningful day?
  • People with developmental disabilities often access the medical system more often, what does accessing the medical system look like over the coming weeks?
  • How do I best advocate for my family member with a disability at this time?

Precautions to consider for reducing your risk of getting and spreading the coronavirus:

 1) Personal Hygiene: 

  • Hand washing can be a challenge for people with a disability. Discuss the importance of good hand hygiene with your family at this time, including how frequent their hands need to be washed with soap. Explore the alternatives to hand washing, such as alcohol-based gels and wipes. (Yes, they are hard to get now) **Here is a handwashing video that might be helpful for teaching. CLICK HERE
  • If you have a cough or you are sneezing – do so into a closed elbow or tissue. Put the tissue in the trash immediately. [In Ontario Canada, Contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or your local public health unit if you’re experiencing symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus.] If you live elsewhere, you will have to look up the local number to call.
  • Avoid contact with others where possible; hugging, handshaking, etc.

2) Physical social distancing:

  • Being in places with other people increases your risk of getting and spreading the COVID-19 virus. 
  • Social distancing means that you need to keep your physical distance from people, we must still find ways to stay socially connected.
  • It is recommended you keep a 2-meters distance between yourself and other people. There is
  • Avoid touching and contact with other people.

3) Reduce exposure to supporters where possible.

The truth is that the fewer people you and your family members are exposed to, the better. However, the reality is that not every family will be able to do this because of support requirements.

All people can do is try to minimize the risk by doing things like:

  • Choosing a supporter(s) who has minimal exposure to other people besides your family.
  • Limiting the number of supporters. If you can keep it to one, that’s ideal, but if not, keep the number as low as possible.
  • Making sure that the supporter understands that he or she needs to practice social distancing, and needs to let you know (and not come to your house!) if he or she feels at all sick or has a known exposure to COVID-19.
  • Having the supporter limit physical interactions and closeness with your family member, to the extent that this is possible.

*Adapted from the suggested babysitter recommendations from Harvard Health Publishing

4) Set up hygiene and physical distancing protocol with personal supporters

  • Set up a hygiene and physical distancing protocol with personal supporters. 
  • Here are some protocols to consider implementing: 
    • Wash hands with soap immediately upon arrival, before and after any food preparation, and to rewash their hands before providing any physical care or contact. 
    • Disinfect household areas that are touched frequently; doorknobs, light switches, counters, etc.
    • Keep physical distancing by 2 meters.
    • Limit physical contact to what is mandatory to satisfy the person’s needs.
    • Have hygiene conversations with family member.
    • If the supporter feels any symptoms of sickness, please do not come and notify immediately.

Maintaining social connection during a time of physical social distancing:

  • Create a ‘Virtual Circle’ of friends to combat loneliness & boredom. FREE Training from Empowering Ability CLICK HERE for instant access
  • Using technology to connect with family and friends; Phone calls, Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Facebook, etc.
  • Take the opportunity to reconnect with old relationships using technology. We can’t use the excuse that people are ‘busy’ right now. Reconnect!
  • Connect with the people in your home; play a board game, create art, work on your future vision with a vision board.
  • Play online games with friends and family. (Mobile apps and gaming systems.)
  • Go to open spaces outside, while keeping a 2-meter distance from other people. 

Maintaining your mental health:

  • Be in nature; get outside and get sunshine and fresh air.
  • Stay moving with 30-minutes of exercise per day. 
  • Consider virtual yoga/ meditation/ mindfulness classes.
  • Use online counseling/ therapy if needed.
  • **Additional resources below in the Support section.

How to care for someone that may have COVID19?

You should take many of the same precautions as you would if you were caring for someone with the flu:

  • Stay in another room or be separated from the person as much as possible. Use a separate bedroom and bathroom, if available.
  • Make sure that shared spaces in the home have good airflow. Turn on an air conditioner or open a window.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60 to 95% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Use soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

*Click the link below for additional precautions caregivers can take.

Source: Harvard Health Publishing

Opportunity to grow:

  • Support your family member to build their role as a contributing adult.
    • Examples of how your family member can contribute in the home:
      • Cleaning the house; disinfecting, vacuuming, dusting, mopping, spring cleaning, etc.
      • Assist in making meals
      • Yard clean up
      • Making a snack
      • Planning grocery shopping
      • Organizing the house

What do I do if I am in a crisis situation?

If you find yourself in a crisis situation call your local crisis line. If you are having a medical emergency then call 911. If you are having mental health challenges, call your local mental health support organization.

If you live in Ontario, below are two resources for distress centers, and emergency developmental disability supports:

Distress Centres: Distress Centers offer support and a variety of services to their communities. At a distress centre you can find a listening ear for lonely, depressed, and/or suicidal people, usually 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. CLICK HERE to find your local Distress Centre

Ontario Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services COVID19 Emergency Assistance: CLICK HERE

FREE Supports for families:

Beat Loneliness with a ‘Virtual Circle’ of Friends! *Now Available

A virtual circle is a group of 6 to 8 people that are in a person’s life, who want to stay connected virtually every week while physical distance is a barrier to in-person connection. A Virtual Circle provides daily social connection, lifts loneliness, and deepens relationships.

Learn the step-by-step process to quickly and easily create a ‘Virtual Circle’ of friends with this FREE Training.

CLICK HERE to register and get instant access

Weekly Family Support Call + Open Office Hours:

Every Thursday @ 7 PM ET we are gathering together as a group families to connect and learn from each other.

Also, every Tuesday @ 2 to 3 PM ET I’m holding open virtual office hours on Zoom where you can come and join me to talk and get your questions answered.

CLICK HERE to register for the support call and virtual office hours

One-to-One Coaching Calls:

Need to talk to someone one-to-one? Eric is has opened his calendar for FREE one-on-one coaching calls. 

CLICK HERE to book a coaching call with Eric

Addressing Loneliness Challenge + Support Calls:

Addressing loneliness during social isolation with Genia Stephen, Founder of Good Things In Life. Free Facebook group with daily prompts.

CLICK HERE to register for addressing loneliness

Weekly Online Mindfulness Calls from CAMH:

Free Live Online Mindfulness for Families in the Autism and Developmental Disability Community Amidst Covid-19 from CAMH. Every Monday @ 2 PM ET until April 13th 2020.

Email to register.

Other informational resources:

Mental Health and COVID-19 from CAMH: CLICK HERE

Understanding of the COVID-19 virus from Johns Hopkins University: CLICK HERE

Many common COVID-19 questions answered by Harvard Health Publishing

If you have any questions or comments, please send them to

Wishing you health,

Eric Goll


Learn how to create more independence for your loved one, and peace of mind for your family. [FREE Training]

Get My Free Training
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