When the coronavirus outbreak upended her 16-year-old daughter’s routine, Sarah D. Parr was worried the teen — who is deaf and autistic — would regress and spend her days doing little else than playing on her iPad.
While state residents were asked to isolate themselves in their home, the League for People with Disabilities offered the family a reprieve: Her daughter Rhiannon “Skyler” Parr’s support counselor, Greta Sobieski, now would make house calls.
Sobieski, a 24-year-old recent University of Tennessee graduate, is fluent in American Sign Language and has earned Skyler’s trust over the months they’ve worked together. Visiting Skyler’s home in Towson, Sobieski has focused on teaching the teen life skills, such as showering instead of taking baths and helping to make her own meals and snacks.
“When I come in, I can offer her quality time and companionship, someone she can hang out with,” said Sobieski, of Howard County. “And we find things to let her exercise her brain muscle a little bit.”
The pandemic has closed day programs where Marylanders with disabilities can learn and spend time with friends. Support counselors, like Sobieski, aides and services providers have had to find new ways to reach their clients.
Before the pandemic, Sobieski and Skyler typically would spend four hours a day together at the League for People With Disabilities. Then, Sobieski would drive the teen home and stay for 30 minutes to get Skyler settled. Now, they are together six hours each weekday.
Sobieski knows to bring pipe cleaners that she braids for Skyler to untangle, which calms her and gives her a sensory experience she enjoys. They paint together, work on puzzles and practice handwriting. And Sobieski is trying to use one of Skyler’s favorite iPad apps that lets her style the hair of different characters to entice her to wash and do her own.
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The time Sobieski and Skyler spend together gives Parr and her husband, Guy Parr III, much needed respite, Skyler’s mother said. Parr is a stay-at-home mom and her husband is locksmith.
Having Sobieski, Parr said, allows her a chance to breathe — or catch up on rest after the nights when Skyler doesn’t sleep.
“Greta and her colleagues are lifelines to special needs families," Parr said.
Parr said it has been a hard road trying to fill her daughter’s needs. The family had to fight hard for the services Skyler receives, including the League’s and the specialized Trellis School in Sparks. She does not want the virus outbreak to set Skyler or the family back.
And in many ways, Skyler is a typical teenager who is less receptive to requests from her parents than someone like Sobieski with whom she shares a friendship.
“Mom says to do something, good luck with that,” Parr said. “Greta says to do something, she is much more inclined.”
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