Developmental Disability and COVID19

April 27, 2020

Last updated: Monday, April 27th, 2020

The purpose of this page is to provide essential information and resources on the COVID-19 Pandemic for families with a family member with a developmental disability.

Everyone must maintain social distancing. As much as possible, limit contact with people outside your family.

There are several FREE COVID-19 weekly support calls and resources listed at the bottom of this page, specially designed for developmental disability. CLICK HERE to learn about FREE Supports for families.

FAQ Developmental Disability & COVID19:


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]

What are the opportunities for growth during this time?


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

How do we care for someone that has COVID19?

Should I wear a face mask?


How do we battle loneliness & boredom during physical distancing?

How do we maintain our mental health during this time?

What are the opportunities for growth during this time?


Covid19 doesn’t discriminate, but society does.

Canadian Covid-19 Disability Advisory Group


In Canada, what benefits are available to me? And, how do I access them?

In Ontario, Canada, what benefits are available to a person with a developmental disability?

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 how long this is going to last to my family member with a developmental disability?

A: We don’t know how long the virus and physical distancing is going to last and things continue to change. The government and medical officials have told us to stay home until at least (date). On (date) the government will tell us if we can go into the community, or we need to continue to stay inside for longer. However, physical distancing is going to be in place for the months to come.


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.
    • Have adequate PPE in place. Facemasks, gloves, face shields, can be considered. You can take a look at the procedure put in place for Ontario Long term care homes as a reference to build your procedure with supporters.

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. Note: Many public spaces are closed and you can be fined if you are in a closed space.

Maintaining your mental health:

Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak from the World Health Organization (WHO) CLICK HERE. (Many of the *WHO recommendations are noted below)

  • Minimize watching, reading or listening to news about COVID-19 that causes you to feel anxious or distressed.
  • Find opportunities to amplify positive and hopeful stories and positive images of local people who have experienced COVID-19. (*WHO)
  • Honour carers and healthcare workers supporting people affected with COVID-19 in your community. (*WHO)
  • Stay connected and maintain your social networks. (*WHO)
  • Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food. (*WHO)
  • Be in nature; get outside and get sunshine and fresh air. (Maintain 2-meter physical distance from others. Also many parks are closed. Check with your local authority.)
  • Consider virtual yoga/ meditation apps/ 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:

  • Invest in the “Create My New Normal” Online Workshop Series to support your family member with a developmental disability to grow! *Registration closes April 30th, 2020. CLICK HERE to learn more.
  • Support your family member to build their role as a contributing adult.
    • Examples of how your family member can contribute to 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
  • Continue your education with free online courses! CLICK HERE for a list of courses.
  • Note: Consider how supporters can virtually continue supporting and coaching your family member using video calling.

In Canada, what benefits are available to me? And, how do I access them?

Jennifer Robson, Associate Professor of Political Management at Carleton University has compiled a plain-language document to help make sense of the various Canadian Government programs.

CLICK HERE for simple language benefit information


There is also advocacy work being done to help make COVID19 benefits more accessible for Canadian’s with disabilities. You can learn more by reading this statement from The Canadian Association for Community Living, CLICK HERE.


Passport and SSAH Funding Announce Temporary changes to eligible expenses

Families are temporarily allowed to use this funding for sensory items, technology, home-based activities, personal protective equipment (PPE), essential service delivery fees, and Behavioural Support Plans and Related Interventions.

CLICK HERE for the details on Passport Funding

CLICK HERE for the details on SSAH


Should I wear a face-mask?

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. CLICK HERE for more information, including a video on how to make a homemade mask.

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

Supports for families:

The ‘Create My New Normal’ Workshop Series 

Move out of uncertainty and create a new normal that enables your family member with a disability to grow! The ‘Create My New Normal’ Online Workshop is your guide to creating structure, routine, the right supports, and social connection. Together we will create a good life with your family member in this new world of physical distancing! But don’t wait too long because registration closes April 30th, 2020.

CLICK HERE for more on the ‘Create My New Normal’ Workshop Series


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

Finding a New Normal Webinar:

On Tuesday at 7 PM ET I’m hosting a webinar to share the insights we’ve gained that are helping people with disabilities and their family find a new normal. Click below to make sure you are on the list for this week’s webinar. 

CLICK HERE to register for the webinar

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

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 [email protected].

Wishing you health,

Eric Goll

    • Hi Stella. Businesses and organizations are opening at different times depending on government guidelines. These guidelines vary by municipality. My recommendation is to call the business/ organization and ask them for an update.

  • My son has problems with hugs and touching way before this Pandemic he is 24 and has had no friends or never had a girlfriend we have always worked on social but now he has regressed to self isolation even more how can I help him to overcome he has PDD/NOS but high functioning social skills are his weakest before but now it is even worse.

    • Hi SW. Thank you for your question. This is a time that we have all gone inward due to social distancing. It is hard for me to answer this question without more context.

      One thing you can do is join our family support call on Thursday night where we are going to talk about finding our new normal and building social connection during a time of social distancing. Here is the link to register: https://www.empoweringability.org/covid19support

      Very best,

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