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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

May 13, 2020

‘We Isolate All the Time’: Mother of Special Needs Children Discusses Life During Quarantine

By Deirdre Flanagan Ward

Mary Kate Sparks is a homemaker, wife and mother to three adult boys – two of whom have autism. Everyday life is not always easy for her, having to address the needs of her sons. Add self-isolation/quarantine to the situation, and her responsibilities take on a different challenge.

“To tell you the truth, special needs families self-isolate all the time,” she said candidly. “We are used to not going to restaurants or attending family functions. It is often easier to just stay home.”

Her biggest concern during this pandemic is that her two sons can no longer attend their school and day programs, which is paramount for their well-being as well as her own.

“They have a full life when they attend these programs,” she said. “They get out into the community, they learn social skills and have fun being with their peers. Now my day revolves around their needs versus mine – being able to take my daily walk, do my housework, or just have me time to rejuvenate myself so I can be my best for them.”

Fortunately, the school staff checks in to assure all is going well for one son, but for the son who is no longer in school, Sparks said, “It’s just me.”

Prior to COVID-19, Sparks and her boys would visit numerous beaches, parks and nature reserves all around the county. Great Adventure was their recreational destination during the warmer months and a top favorite for her boys. Given the recent closure of many public places, her options have become increasingly limited.

Her typical day now has turned into what she calls the “never-ending weekend.”

“With no school or day programs, every day is the weekend to them,” she said. “They don’t understand what is going on. We wake up each morning and have breakfast. I shower and get dressed, and then I shower and dress them both. We then go for a car ride and get take-out at one of the fast food restaurants – something we used to do every weekend, but now it’s every day. Each day is the exact same as the day before.”

She said it’s important for families with special needs children to maintain a routine. Since her sons can no longer enjoy their regular outdoor excursions, they rely on car rides, for which she is grateful.

“I believe it relaxes them and gets them out of the house which is important since they can never sit in for long periods of time,” she said.

With no definitive date given to when things will return to normal, Sparks is taking it day by day, one car ride at a time, and ironically, thinks the boys are actually enjoying their “forever weekends.” But for her, as soon as this pandemic passes, she plans on taking a long walk – by herself.


Three things Sparks has to say about the coronavirus and her experience:

  1. “Nobody really knows what is going to happen from day-to-day. Just enjoy the moment.”
  2. “Keeping a spotless house is not so important.”
  3. “Now people know what it’s like to be a special needs parent. We isolate all the time.”