CERi Fellow's research unmasks the impact of COVID-19 on families of children with autism

November 24, 2020

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted countless people in immeasurable ways. One group significantly impacted is families caring for autistic children. Just to what extent they have been impacted is something that SFU PhD student and former CERi Fellow Vanessa Fong has been researching and the results are compelling.

Last spring, researchers from SFU’s Autism and Development Disorders Lab (ADDL) and the Social Attention Group in Education (SAGE) collaborated with ACT – Autism Community Training to survey 238 caregivers of autistic children in British Columbia. This survey assessed mental health, child and family functioning, quality of life and satisfaction with government supports and services. The survey was co-created with ACT and also included feedback from parents and caregivers in this community.

“Our partnership with ACT in creating our online COVID-19 survey has allowed us to answer highly relevant questions that have important implications for the autistic community in terms of policy and practice,” says Fong, a researcher with the ADDL.

Their findings were staggering. They illuminate the immense stress that caregivers of autistic children are experiencing amid COVID-19.

  • 9% of caregivers considered putting their child into care due to the lack of supports during COVID-19
  • 37% of caregivers were worried that their child would physically hurt another family member
  • 40% of caregivers reported that COVID-19 has either moderately or severely impacted their family income

“While we were aware of a number of anecdotal reports suggesting elevated stress and anxiety in parents and autistic individuals brought on by COVID-19, the results from our study not only confirmed this but shed light on its magnitude and adverse impact,” says Fong.

The findings point to an urgent need for better supports that address the specific needs of parents who are struggling to care for their children under increasingly challenging circumstances.

Fong compiled the survey findings into a poster (below) that was recently presented at a Kids Brain Health Network conference. These findings were also covered by various news outlets including The Globe and Mail, the National Post and News 1130.

Note: Click the poster to view full size.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health, Quality of Life, and Service and Support Needs in Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Preliminary Findings

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