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Portsmouth nonprofit helps youth with intellectual disabilities adjust to new normal due to COVID-19

Children with special needs may have an even tougher task grappling with their new realities amid the coronavirus. Holiday House of Portsmouth, Inc. is helping them.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — While children are adapting to daily life changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, those with special needs may experience unique challenges as they adjust.

“They are very orientated to routine and structure,” said Ronnie Ratliff, the Chief Administrative Officer at Holiday House of Portsmouth, Inc

The nonprofit works to improve the lives of youth with intellectual disabilities, and up to 28 children from across Virginia can live at the state-licensed facility at one time. 

“They are used to getting up a certain time in the morning, going to school, coming back home.”

Ratliff said their kids may have trouble processing modifications to the regular routine amid COVID-19. 

“They may need a community walk. They may need to go outside, utilize some of our exercise equipment,” said Ratliff. “Really, it's just adjusting to some of their behavior changes, because it is difficult for them.” 

But the staff at Holiday House is determined to keep the children on track, all while taking the necessary precautions to make certain they stay safe. 

"We have had to limit visitation of the families and any vendors to no visitation at all," Ratliff explained. “You have the staff members who are getting their temperatures taken... You have the children daily also getting their temperatures taken by our nursing staff... [and] anytime we're either walking in the community [or] outdoors, we're making sure we practice that social distancing.”

There are new tools in place at Holiday House to help the kids adapt during the public health crisis, including stories about the coronavirus pandemic, activities addressing germs and hygiene, and more opportunities to express how their new reality makes them feel. 

“Children have to understand, too, 'Why are we going through all this?'” Ratliff said. “You've got to adjust them to the change that's happening in their lives.” 

Ratliff said the world around these children is changing, but Holiday House of Portsmouth, Inc.’s mission remains the same: to do everything it takes to ensure they continue to thrive. 

“Children will become adults, and we want them to be as independent as possible in a lot of the skilled areas that they're learning,” said Ratliff. “We don't want their progress to digress, even during this period of time.” 

Holiday House of Portsmouth, Inc. receives federal funding, but the facility is also accepting donations from the community. 

For more information or to become a volunteer, visit holidayhouseportsmouth.org or facebook.com/holidayhouseportsmouth/.

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