Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Rep. Dane Eagle and other Southwest Florida community leaders held a virtual town hall to discuss the COVID-19 response with families of individuals with autism and other disabilities.
“We are working as hard as we can to provide you with resources and connect you with resources. To the families, I give you immense credit, you are juggling working from home, kids at home, you are the most amazing people,” Benacquisto said to the families. “We want to make sure we can connect the dots and do whatever we can for your children.”
“This is unprecedented, and we are all trying to get through this together,” Eagle said. “We are really here to listen to you and hear what’s on your mind and try to make things better.”
Family Initiative, Inc., a Southwest Florida nonprofit dedicated to supporting children who have autism and strengthening their families, organized the town hall for the families. Family Initiative serves children in clinical settings by providing therapies and also offers autism playgroups, teen meetings, parent education and more.
“Our families have many concerns and we wanted to bring together local and state leaders to provide resources and answers for the unique needs of the autism community. By maintaining connections and extending individualized support, we hope to reduce the anxiety individuals with autism and their families may experience through this challenging time,” said David Brown, President of Family Initiative.
More than 40 participants attended the virtual town hall. Questions concerned the state’s stay-at-home order, medical processes for individuals with disabilities, and questions regarding minor and adult children with disabilities.
“These are truly difficult times. We have been able to provide flexibility to providers to be able to provide services that are different and unique,” said APD Director Barbara Palmer. Palmer also directed families to the APD website where Frequently Asked Questions are updated regularly with detailed information for individuals with disabilities and their families.
Families asked about when the state may reopen since many individuals are out of work.
“The decision in Florida to reopen is going to be made with the best data and the best information and in a way that is the safest for everyone across the state,” Benacquisto said.
Eagle agreed, “We’ve got to figure out how to do this in the safest and cautious way, but I know everyone is chomping at the bit to get back to work and resume some sort of normalcy.”