Unique Challenges for Special-Needs Kids Displaced by Sandy

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Families with children with disabilities are trying their best to deal with the unique and difficult challenges after Sandy. Greg Cergol reports. (Published Friday, Nov 16, 2012)

    A group of families who lost their homes to Sandy have struggled with a unique hardship in recent weeks: caring for their handicapped children.

    "The last three weeks have been surreal," said mother Angela Mayer. "It just wiped away everything normal, everything easy."

    Mayer's Howard Beach home was destroyed in the storm, including all the wheelchair ramps and special amenities that help her son Philip, 10, make it through each day in his electric wheelchair.

    Since Sandy, Mayer and her son have lived with relatives on Long Island, while Mayer's husband and three other children stay with family in Howard Beach. The forced separation is necessary to keep Philip closer to his school, the Henry Viscardi School for disabled children in Albertson, Angela Mayer said.

    In all, students from six families at the Viscardi school have been displaced from their homes. It has created special challenges for parents trying to meet their kids' needs.

    "You can't just live in any home," said Jacqueline Tansey, whose son Peyton, 11, also uses a wheelchair.

    The Tanseys' home in Belle Harbor was also devastated by Sandy's floods and they now live with relatives in Douglaston.

    "We're grateful, but there's a lot to worry about," said Tansey. "The doorways are too narrow, the bathroom shower is too small for a wheelchair or there is no bathroom at all.

    "All that was normal, all the things we took for granted have been turned upside down," she said. 

    Fortunately for both Tansey and Angela Mayer, the wheelchair-accessible vans they use to transport their children survived the storm. But other families weren't so lucky and now face problems getting anywhere with their children.

    "Parents of disabled children have no guide book," said Patrice Kuntzler, executive director at the Viscardi school. "They just have to figure it out as they go."

    School has become a kind of oasis for the children, a place to reunite with friends and forget about what they have lost, at least for a few hours.

    Teachers donned costumes Friday and staged a celebration for the Halloween the children missed.

    As for what's ahead, the parents said their homes may not be rebuilt until next spring.

    "There are so many questions," said Mayer. "I just don't know what the answers will be."

    When asked what keeps her going, the mother choked back tears.

    "Philip keeps me going," she said. "He's got the best attitude of anyone I have ever met."

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