Personal Story

Feature Issue on Crisis Management for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Building Resilience Amid Job Loss and Fear

Author(s)

Maria Girón lives in Lima, Peru with her son Sandro.

Sandro López , 39, has participated in Centro Ann Sullivan Peru programs since he was 5. He has been working in the community in competitive employment through CASP for more than 20 years. He is the main breadwinner for his household, and lives with autism.

A mother stands with her adult son in their home in Peru. The son has his arm around his mother and is smiling, showing braces on his teeth. He’s wearing a striped shirt that features a polo player logo. His mother wears a blue patterned dress with jeans.

Maria Girón and her son Sandro Lopez worked hard during the pandemic to stay healthy.

Sandro : I’ve worked at Alusud Peru [a maker of plastic container lids] for 19 years. I sort correspondence, track documents, scan documents, and replenish copier supplies, among other jobs in the office. Before the pandemic came, I worked weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. I have very good friends there because I’ve been there for such a long time. It’s been so long that now I’m like a coach to new employees, helping them get used to the place. My former supervisor, Mike, was probably my best friend at work. I still have many friends there, but Mike and I were very close and when he got married and had a child with autism, he told me it was different for him because he had known me.

When I am working, I am happy. I see my friends, and I have money to take care of my home. My job pays about $450 per month, well above the national minimum wage here. I pay the light bill and other utilities for our house, and I bought the groceries for the two of us. I’ve also been renovating our home.

In June of 2020 I was furloughed because of COVID-19, and it is very hard not to see my friends at work and in our neighborhood, to not even really go out much. This situation is very sad. I have friends with the disease and we are praying for them. Fortunately, my mom and I haven’t had it.

I’ve had to take some retirement benefits out early, and my siblings are helping us a little, too.

This year has been hard emotionally for my mom and I’ve had to cheer her up so she doesn’t get depressed. We started exercising in our living room to YouTube videos and she has lost a lot of weight. We were worried because being overweight can make the virus worse, but she’s doing OK now. We are following all the protocols and taking care of ourselves.

Terrorism has been another crisis our country has had to deal with in my lifetime. In some ways, this long time of pandemic has been worse than that because we can’t even go outside very much in the quarantine.

Maria : Sandro is a blessing to me and my motivation to stay healthy. Now that my other kids have grown up and left home, Sandro and I have become even closer. Even during the pandemic, he never gets tired or sad, he just always cheers me up. There have been times I’ve been depressed, and he brings me out of that. He knows in his heart that one day he will be back at work and life will be back to normal.

He’s been working since he was 15, and was the one who paid for his sister’s education for a technical career. When he was 8, he started taking the long bus ride to school by himself, even though he was very afraid of all the dogs running loose around our town, because we couldn’t afford to pay for two tickets every day. I think this is part of what made him become so independent.

Both of his siblings said they wanted to help us now because Sandro helped them at key moments when they really needed help.

He knows how to do everything needed in daily life. If I die, he’s ready. Working with professionals at CASP, Sandro and I and our family became a team to work on his education and life skills as he grew. Today, we are still a team.

Preparing for this crisis took a long time. He learned a lot of life skills at the center, along with learning to read, write, and speak. When he was very young, I didn’t know anything about autism. My son had no words at age 5 and no one gave me any hope about his future. At the center, for the first time, they gave me hope. They told me my son is going to be a productive member of the community. And now that’s a reality. If anything, the pandemic has made this even more clear.

Sandro : I’m happy that I’ve been able to help my family, but we really need this vaccine to come because we are scared. I want to get out of the house and return to work and have money again. It feels bad that all of this was taken away. I want to get back to renovating my home. That is my dream now.

This article was adapted from a conversation between the family and Liliana Mayo, with translation by Dr. Mayo.