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For residents in Albertina Kerr’s 54 group homes, the COVID-19 situation is creating a mix of complicated and new emotions. “The brain wiring for children, teens, and adults experiencing an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD) makes it difficult for them to cope,” John Munzer explains. “They worry ‘what if I get sick’ or ‘what if my caregiver gets sick’.”

Munzer, a Kerr behavior specialist, skillfully evaluates, addresses, and teaches coping skills for complex behavior challenges to individuals with I/DD. An essential care provider, he works with nearly 40 Kerr residents and their team of caregivers to understand why the behavior is happening in the first place. He then provides effective solutions to deescalate and manage the unwanted behavior.

“The work we do is hard in the best of times,” he explains. “Behavior is complex—it’s not just a straight line—it’s a spider web of hundreds of different factors intersecting on one behavior; from their medical and psychiatric challenges to their relationships, or lack of, and the absence of skills to safely address problems.”

The “Stay Home, Save Lives” order has created some new hurdles for Munzer. “I can’t go into the homes,” he says. Because the safety of both Kerr’s clients and employees is a priority, he now makes his rounds virtually. “I continue to help clients adapt and overcome whatever challenge they are encountering,” he says. “However, teaching staff how to deal with difficult behaviors through a web cam isn’t always easy.”

For some clients, their behavior support plan was designed to get them out in the community. “Now they can’t leave their house,” Munzer notes. “So, we’ve come up with creative ideas, such as taking walks around the yard, making an obstacle course, or innovative game play—toss a Frisbee—wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe—and toss it back.”

Residents are also adjusting to their care providers wearing face masks, which for some is scary. Munzer suggested drawing a silly face on the mask. Then, there’s his client who is deaf and depends on lip-reading. “I told her ‘It’s okay to be upset; we’re trying to keep you safe’,” he says. “We gave her a pad of paper so she and staff can write messages back and forth.”

On top of all this, Munzer, like many parents, is juggling his 10-year-old daughter’s schooling. “Knowing people need me at my best—I’m at my best,” he states. “Our staff are essential to the health and safety of other human beings—they depend on me.”

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