Michael and Mary Gorman at home in cocoon in Abbeyleix with their son Eoin.
Families of people with Down Syndrome in Laois are feeling particularly vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic.
They are in fear that if life and death medical choices had to be made on who to treat with Covid-19, that people with Down Syndrome who often have added health problems, would not be considered equal.
To add to their concerns, many parents of adults with Down Syndrome are themselves elderly and more at risk of getting seriously sick from the virus.
Their worries have been highlighted by the chairperson of Down Syndrome Ireland ‘Laois branch’, Michael Gorman.
“It is very difficult. A lot of our members have other health conditions and their immunity would be compromised. It is a great worry. We have a lot of adult members and a lot of their own parents would have to cocoon as they are over 70,” he said.
“Our concern is that as things progress with Covid-19, that people with Down Syndrome would be given the same priority as everyone else.
“We have heard some stories that in other countries they were put to the bottom of the queue for treatment for Covid in hospital. That they maintain their importance with every member of society if it comes to choices. This is a concern as things progress,” Mr Gorman said.
Michael and his wife Mary are themselves in lockdown with their son Eoin, 24, because of Michael’s own health.
“In our own case, we can’t leave the house at all because I have underlying health issues. Eoin here has no real health issues except a bit of asthma. But we are at the point now where we are not leaving the house, just staying in the back garden. We get our shopping delivered. I’d say that is happening with a lot of members. They are taking all possible precautions.
“We all want to get out of this as quickly as possible. It has had a detrimental effect to learning goals, it has been very curtailed, the same as everyone else,” he said.
They are doing their best to keep Eoin happy in lockdown.
“He can get bored easily. He has his own programmes on the laptop, but we don’t want him too much online so we have him outside doing a few bits. He has a swing and he listens to a lot of music.
Normally Eoin attends the RehabCare centre in Portlaoise five days a week.
“Once a month he would go to the Arch club disco, and he would go to the gym club weekly. All that is missed out on, the social contact is gone,” Michael said.
It is hard on Eoin’s mental health he said.
“It is tough on his mental health. He knows all about the coronavirus, he listens to the news carefully, and sometimes we have to get him to walk away as it can be overwhelming,” Michael said.
Another concern for them and other members is whether to attend the doctor for non-Covid health issues.
“You don’t know if you are doing the right thing or the wrong thing. We just need to look out for our health and get out of this as quickly as we can.
He is currently the chairman of the group, which provides social, educational and therapy supports to their members from their Abbeyleix base.
Their long term aim is to build a Field of Dreams education training centre so that adults with Down Syndrome can take their place in the paid mainstream workforce and live as independently as possible in communities.
The branch is still offering virtual online therapies, in Speech and Language, Occupational Therapy and Play Therapy, supplied by the professional company that the group always uses, but in online versions.
“The branch feels it is critical that these supports are continued,” the chairman said.