The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic puts extra stress on people with special needs, disabilities and family carers.
This advice can help carers and families to look after someone with special needs at this time.
Explain the COVID-19 situation
Make sure the person understands what is happening at the moment.
For help explaining COVID-19, you could use:
- a comic strip to explain what COVID-19 is (PDF, 1MB, 12 pages)
- easy to read resources that help explain COVID-19 from As I Am’s website
Discuss COVID-19 testing and explain what will happen if they need to be tested. If they need to go to a testing centre, they may find it helpful to role-play the testing process. This will help to make sure there is nothing that they weren’t expecting on the day.
Download an easy-to-read guide on:
- getting ready to go to the test centre (PDF, 5.61 MB, 17 pages).
- getting ready to go to the drive-in test centre (PDF, 4.36, 18 pages).
Supports available to you
Contact your regular service provider to find out how they can help you. If you don’t have one, phone your public health nurse or HSE disability manager.
Your local county council may be able to help if you need food or medical supplies delivered.
You can also call any of these helplines for advice:
The HSE’s helpline
Phone: 1850 24 18 50
Inclusion Ireland is the national association for people with an intellectual disability.
Phone: 0818 55 98 91
Family Carers Ireland
Practical advice and support for those caring for a loved one at home.
Phone: 1800 24 07 24
Support line for older people
Phone: 0818 22 20 24
Help with your mental health
Phone: 116 123
Barnardos Parent Support
Help for parents when talking to children
Phone: 1800 91 01 23
Helpline for parents
Phone: 1890 92 72 77
Understand the risks for the person you’re supporting
The person you are looking after may be at higher risk of serious illness if they get COVID-19. They may have a long-term medical condition or a weak immune system.
Identify their important non-medical needs also. If there’s something they will be very distressed about, think about how you can support them. For example, talking to someone on a regular video chat schedule if they cannot meet them in person.
Children with disabilities
Preparation and routine
Do as much preparation for changes in routine as possible.
Use visuals where possible, such as:
- 'First and then' charts - a way to show that if the first activity is completed, children can then enjoy their preferred activity afterwards
- a calendar with pictures of what is coming up
- a personalised book outlining what will be happening
- a visual schedule outlining daily activities
Routines can help your child feel secure. They can help them feel like they have more control. Routines can give your child confidence that nothing bad will happen.
Keep as much routine as you can.
You should try to keep:
- the same bedtime and wake time if possible
- a lot of their meal times the same
- outdoor time if appropriate
- time to relax and play
Avoid over-stimulation where possible. Give them one thing to do, for example, a sticker, colouring or picture books.
Resources for children with autism
Use these stories to help children with autism understand COVID-19 - from the autism charity, As I Am.
Get organised at home
Check if the person you’re caring for has an up to date Health Passport. This is a physical document that shows what supports they may need if they have to go for a test or into hospital.
This might be special instructions on any help they need when:
- using the bathroom
Emergency care plan
You may need a plan for who can offer support if you get sick and cannot give care.
Family Carers Ireland have an emergency care plan for primary carers. This is to help carers think about who could offer support and what that person would need to know.
GP phone number
Make sure to display their GP or doctor’s phone number somewhere visible.
Display a poster
Put a poster in a visible place to explain the most ways of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Have a plan for who you can call if you need any essential items. Prepare what you’ll need for this time.
This may include:
- 1 to 2 weeks of essential supplies, including food and cleaning items
- prescription medication and over-the-counter medication
- continence aids, wipes, catheters, feeding tube gear to last up to a month
If you usually get continence products from the HSE, this should continue. Contact your local HSE Continence Officer if you have any questions.
Some patient’s hospital appointments have changed because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Call your GP or specialist if you have any questions about upcoming appointments.
Plan a positive daily routine. Write the routine down and make sure that the person can understand it.
Some tips to help plan this include:
- making a routine for each day of the week
- keeping the same bedtime and wake up time as normal
- adding physical activities throughout the day as well as restful breaks
- healthy foods, snacks and hydration
- activities they can do on their own if possible - for example, yoga or painting
Any activities that you include should follow social distancing guidelines. Read more about protecting yourself and others.
Take care of yourself
You need to take care of yourself to take care of others. Keep physically and mentally well and accept any help you are offered.
If you are a carer with symptoms of COVID-19
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and the person you are caring for is in a high-risk group, contact your regular service provider. If you don’t have one, contact your public health nurse or local disability manager.
If you need help in developing a new care plan or routine, phone Family Carers Ireland on 1800 24 07 24.
The person you are caring for may not be high risk and there may be someone else in the house who can look after them. If there is, you should isolate yourself as much as possible.
If health or social care staff come to your home
Health and social care staff who visit homes have been given clear guidance to prevent infection and keep everyone safe.
Everyone should follow the advice on good hygiene and hand washing. If staff are not following these guidelines, contact your service provider for advice.
If anyone in your house has symptoms of COVID-19, you should phone:
- their GP
- your service provider
Do this straight away before the health staff or home support arrives. This is to make sure you stop the spread of COVID-19.
Personal Protective Equipment
Public health nurses may have gloves and aprons for medical card and Long Term Illness Scheme cardholders.
You may be able to get financial support if you:
- are a carer looking after someone with a disability
- have a disability and have lost your job because of COVID-19
You can also call:
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) income support helpline
Phone: 1890 80 00 24
Easy to read disability resources
Last updated: 4 January 2021 at 10.30am