Brain and Behavior, Brain Training Research, Mental Health

COVID Pandemic and Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Double Whammy of Disrupted Routines

Children with an autism spectrum disorder and their caregivers face unique challenges in the best of times. During the COVID-19 pandemic crisis these challenges rose exponentially in ways that scientists are just beginning to evaluate. A recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders revealed worsening behaviors and understandably increased stress levels due to the disruption of therapies and routines during COVID-19.

As a part of the Simons Powering Autism Research for Knowledge (SPARK) study, researchers administered surveys to over 3500 caregivers or parents of patients diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Results showed that most patients suffered from severely disrupted or even discontinued services, with few benefits reported from alternative and telehealth options. The research confirmed worsening autism spectrum disorder behaviors, increased stress for families, and greater risk of negative outcomes, with preschool age children (those under the age of five) suffering most.

While this may sound like bad news, the publication of such realities can help shed light on a serious problem and provoke public health interventions for immediate and future changes. The researchers offer several ideas for improvement: “Service providers should consider solutions that allow for some in-person contact for critical therapies in a way that reduces risk, such as mask-wearing, contact tracing, and limiting in-person sessions to specific therapists/families, rather than rotating therapists or larger groups, to control the risk.”

Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy

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