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Blind boy, 6, separated from sister ‘reaches for hugs on Zoom’

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Sara Meredith and husband Alan have not slept properly for 12 months as they care round the clock for adopted son Daniel (Picture: Sara Meredith)

A six-year-old boy who is blind with an array of complex needs reaches out and cries whenever he hears his sister’s voice on Zoom.

Sara Meredith says her adopted son Daniel does not understand the pandemic and feels abandoned by family and friends who he can no longer touch and cuddle.

Sara, 44, from Walsall, says the last 12 months have been ‘exhausting and intense’ coping with Daniel’s needs and disabilities, also including diabetes, cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease and curvature of the spine.

She spoke after the Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP) – a coalition of more than 80 organisations – released figures showing half of disabled children it surveyed have not seen a friend online or in person during the latest lockdown.

Sara and husband Alan, who are foster parents, had spent four years building up Daniel’s trust to the point where he was able to go to school.

Sara said: ‘We can cope with Daniel’s complexities in normal life but when you add Covid on top of that, it becomes two-fold.

‘The world has become so much smaller, before Covid he had family support and he was surrounded by his sisters, including our youngest, Brodie, they were like two peas in a pod.

‘Covid means he’s had none of that, we have not had a carer in and we’ve not slept for a whole night in 12 months.

‘Every two hours he needs to have stuff done so we sleep in shifts. You are also fearful that any interaction you have will bring this virus to him. It’s been an exhausting and intense time.’

Daniel Meredith’s world has become much smaller during the lockdowns and he is yet to return to school, his mum Sara said (Picture: Sara Meredith)

Daniel, who is vision impaired, had grown close to his three sisters before the lockdown, and especially misses Brodie.

The siblings have not had any in-person contact for a year, with Brodie, 20, being restricted to speaking through doors and windows when she does return home, to which Daniel cries or disengages.

‘Daniel doesn’t understand the impact of the virus, all he thinks is that people don’t want him anymore,’ Sara said.

‘We can’t say “goodbye” anymore because he absolutely sobs and when he heard his friend on a Zoom Easter party he was inconsolable.

‘How can I tell my boy that he’s still loved if the way he feels love is cuddles and touch but people can’t do that?

‘If I leave the room he sobs and he’s waking up with night terrors.’

The family had to stop Zoom conversations to keep in touch during the lockdowns because of Daniel’s distraught reactions.

‘Every time he heard his sisters he would reach out for a cuddle and he would cry,’ Sara said. ‘It was just heart-breaking.

‘It’s not like a toddler tantrum, he thinks people don’t want him anymore.’

Daniel has not been among the millions of children who have returned to face-to-face lessons under the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

The impact of the isolation from his friendship and support networks has been so profound the couple are unsure of when he will be able to return.

Sara said: ‘It’s Daniel’s emotional needs that are stopping him now. Daniel has no adrenaline so he can’t produce enough stress hormone.

‘If he cries or gets upset for a long period of time it puts his health at severe risk and we need to get him confident that people aren’t going to leave him.

‘A couple of weeks ago in the hospital he had a massive panic attack and we thought he might have to be ventilated, it was so scary, he couldn’t breathe.

‘I imagine every child will need some support and guidance going back to school because it’s been a shocking year for everybody but Daniel has really been hit hard by this.

‘I also worry about how safe he will be until everybody around him is vaccinated. We already have to be hyper-vigilant through the winter because of colds.’

Sara Meredith and husband Alan with Daniel who the couple say has been hit hard by the impact of the pandemic (Picture: Sara Meredith)

Research by the DCP shows that 49% of disabled children have not seen a friend online or in person during the pandemic.

A further 15% have yet to make a full-time return to school.

Parents have also felt the impact, with 80% registering stress levels that would have qualified them for NHS help before the crisis, according to the coalition, which is administered by the Royal Mencap Society.

Sara said: ‘The Government says that children are not as adversely affected by Covid but the children that do have the most complex needs are being shielded. Parents like us are living at home not able to go out of the house to protect our children. In the meantime it’s not like Daniel can jump on a Zoom class. To start with, he can only hear his teacher.

‘I have a lot of understanding because the pandemic was new and nobody knew how to deal with it, but the blasé approach to children like Daniel is just heart-breaking.’

The DCP is calling for a targeted Covid-19 support plan for parents of disabled children, including therapies, additional respite care and further support with funding for young people in higher education.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has previously said that it has provided more than £37million to support children with complex needs during the pandemic, and they remain a priority.

A wider £1billion Covid catch-up fund has prioritised special over mainstream schools, with the money being used for support such as therapies and mental health treatment, according to the DHSC.

In December, Children’s Minister Vicky Ford told Metro.co.uk that disabled pupils were a ‘No1 priority’ and praised the efforts of special schools which had stayed open for pupils with education, health and care plans.

Metro.co.uk has approached the DHSC for further comment.

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