Impact of the pandemic on kids with autism is significant

May 2, 2021
Miranda Hester

Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.

The pandemic has drastically changed the lives of children, but children with autism spectrum disorder in particular lost the routines that made life easier to handle. A study presented at the virtual 2021 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting offers insight.

The pandemic has led to radical changes in many children’s lives with alterations in attending school, reduced socialization, and increased time spent with the family. Such major changes can be difficult for most children to deal with, but for children with autism spectrum disorder who thrive with set routines, the pandemic has posed a very different challenge. At the virtual 2021 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting, Hannah Jin Park, BA, a research assistant at the Boston Medical Center in Allston, Massachusetts, presented results from a study that examined how the pandemic had impacted the families of children with autism spectrum disorder.

The participants were recruited from previous studies on maternal depression, autism spectrum disorder, and childhood developmental-behavioral concerns. The caregiver was given a 92 question survey over the phone, which included questions on:

  • Employment – did the adults have reduced work hours? Had an adult been furloughed? Was there job loss?
  • Home Life – was the family able to get childcare or babysitting when it was necessary?
  • Emotional Health – were there issues accessing therapy or mental health care?
  • Physical Health – Was the family as active as it had been before the pandemic or had the amount of physical activity decreased?

The sample of families included a high proportion of Black and Hispanic families as well as families who were receiving public health insurance through the Medicaid program.

Park said that there were many areas where the impact was similar across all families, such as having difficulty accessing food or a reduction in work as well as complete job loss. All families also reported greater verbal conflict among the adults in the household and noted that discipline had been harsher during the pandemic. Most of the families did note 1 positive outcome from the pandemic: greater quality time spent with the children. However, in the families with a child who had autism spectrum disorder, the parents noted that the child had more behavioral and sleep difficulties. There was also greater physical conflict among the children in those households.

The study highlighted the profound impact that the pandemic was having on certain types of families, ie, those who have a child with autism spectrum disorder as well as families that are low income and mostly Black, indigenous, or people of color. Park concluded that these effects may have impacts that last far past the end of the pandemic.

Reference

1. Park H. The impact of COVID on families' wellbeing with children with ASD. Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting 2021; May 2, 2021; virtual. Accessed May 2, 2021.