Families Urge Cuomo to Change Restrictions on Visiting Autistic Children's Facilities

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At a party prop warehouse in Farmingdale, New York, Dennise Segal and her husband are both hurting. They’re got nothing to help celebrate, no business still – but their bigger concern right now is with the governor, who so far hasn’t indicated when they’ll be able to see their son, Jarred, again.

“I have not seen my son or hugged my son since March 12, since this all started.  It’s just hard,” Segal said.

Jarred is autistic, non-verbal since age 4. He can only communicate through an iPad, and lives in a children’s residential center 25 minutes away. But for months, he hasn’t been able to see his family.

“If we wanted, we could do a video chat, but the problem is he gets upset, (saying) ‘I want to go home.’ He just wants to visit with his family,” Segal said, adding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t yet said what phase visits for families like theirs would be allowed once again.

Suzanne Reek heads the Autism Society for Nassau and Suffolk counties, and her son Joseph is non-verbal as well. She said that she has been inundated with phone calls from families saying they want to see their loved one, and said that the breaking of the routine is “devastating” for the families.

Both the Reek and Segal families have made routine visits for years, the structure helping in their children’s development.

“We just don’t understand why the bars can open, you can get a haircut, but I can’t take my son home,” Reek said. “I think like Dennise, we’re feeling like our children feel like they’re being abandoned.”

The state has yet to announce concrete reopening plans regarding centers like the ones where the Reek and Segal families have loved ones. The facility where the boys stay told NBC New York that they “remain bound to operate under the OPWDD March standards. We do believe that with the proper protocols in place, many families may be able to safely visit their loved ones.”

But for now, both families deal with an indescribably “gutwrenching” feeling, which won’t go away until they can see their sons. All the families can do at this time is speak out, and hop someday soon they will be reunited with their loved ones.

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