Catching COVID-19: Our Family’s Story

As quickly as you make a plan, living in a world amid a global pandemic means that plan can come to a screeching halt without warning. That is precisely what happened to our family yesterday when our 5-year-old son with Autism Spectrum Disorder tested positive for COVID-19.

After a failed attempt at distance-learning Kindergarten, my husband and I decided that I would home school our son this year, and he’d continue his behavior therapy. We had already made the choice NOT to send him for face-to-face instruction as we didn’t want to expose him to more people. He had already been in behavior therapy all summer, so we elected to continue that and felt pretty good about it.

Other than behavior therapy, we have remained vigilant in limiting exposure to people outside our home, including my three adult children. However, Monday was my son’s 19th birthday, and he and his girlfriend came by for a mostly outside visit. After he left, I got a call from my youngest son’s behavior center that a therapist tested positive for COVID-19.

Immediately I remembered that earlier in the day, his therapist said he seemed a little under the weather. I looked over at him, lying calmly on the couch and thought, He never does that! I walked over and felt his forehead. It was warm. Panic swept through me. I texted his doctor and asked what I should do about getting him tested, and she gave me a few options. One was an evening pediatric clinic that offered free rapid results testing. It was already late, so we decided to take him the next afternoon.

When we woke up the next morning, my husband said he felt a little off. We decided to get him tested in the morning, and then I’d take our son in the afternoon. Just as we were preparing to leave, unannounced my daughter pulled up to show us her new car. I went outside to take a peek quickly. When she went to open the door to show me the inside, it was locked and the car was running, with her keys and phone sitting in the console.

More panic. My son is feverish; my husband doesn’t feel well; my daughter’s keys are locked in her running car and blocking my car. Luckily my husband was able to maneuver his car around hers, and off he went for a COVID test. My daughter called a locksmith, and about 45 minutes later, she was back on the road headed home.

My husband called about an hour later with good news! His results were negative. That gave me hope that my son’s results would be as well.

Around 4:30 pm, I loaded my son in the car. We arrived at the after-hours clinic around 4:45 pm, and once we checked in, the receptionist instructed us to wait in the car. Rather than strapping my son in his car seat for the wait, I let him sit in the front seat, and he was super excited. So excited that he attempted to push every button and repeatedly rolled the windows up and down. At one point, he opened the door and almost escaped into a busy parking lot. It was an agonizing hour!

Finally, around 5:45 pm, they called us in. The test was the nasal swab, and I knew it wasn’t going to go well. The second the nurse put the swab in his first nostril, he winced in pain and refused to willingly continue. We had to pin him down and I felt terrible! After the procedure was over he asked for a band-aid for his nose. When the nurse gave it to him, he put it on his nostrils. That seemed to help!

In the car, he said to me, “The doctor hurt me,” and he started to cry. My son rarely cries, rarely seems sad, and even more rarely ever verbalizes pain, so this was unusual for him.

By the time we got home, my husband said the clinic called with the news that our son tested positive for COVID-19 with instructions that all three of us must quarantine for the next two weeks. I immediately called my older kids and told them to get tested since they had both been here recently. They did and fortunately both tested negative.

The good news is his symptoms thus far have been relatively mild; a low-grade fever, slight congestion, a little more lethargic than usual, and a little more tired. My husband and I keep checking our temps and questioning every throat tickle or body ache, but we are okay so far.

The next two weeks could go several ways. Maybe my husband or me, or both of us, begin to show symptoms and need testing. Maybe we don’t. Maybe my son’s symptoms worsen, maybe they don’t.

The only thing I know is we don’t know. And that, my friends, is what this entire pandemic has done to us all. Every day, each decision we make is with an understanding that things could change in an instant.

What I do know without a doubt is like you; I can’t wait for life to be back to normal. Maybe for our family, we are now one positive COVID-19 diagnosis closer.

Stay safe.

Going through challenging times can teach you a lot, and they also make you appreciate the times that aren’t so challenging. – Carrie Fisher

Update: Thursday, August 27, 2020: The State of Florida Health Department called today and collected a ton of information included contact tracing questions. It made me feel very good that our state is doing it’s job! Barclay continues to feel well and the rest of the family remains asymptomatic.


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Amy Nielsen lives in Orlando, Florida. She is the proud mother of four children ranging in age from 5-33! She and her husband, Brent enjoy sports and traveling. Amy is a former teacher with nearly 20 years of experience, a freelance writer, and a special needs advocate. Her mission is to help educate and empower families of children with disabilities to focus on their child's interests and strengths.