New Study Shows Autistic Children Suffer More Severe Mental Health Deterioration Amid the Pandemic

According to a Canadian-based study, lockdowns and school closures during the first year of the Covid 19 pandemic adversely affected the mental health of children and young people.

These youth manifested more externalizing and internalizing behaviors in response to elevated stress levels caused by disruptions to routine and access to health and educational services.

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According to the survey among parents using the Patient Health Questionnaire, those youth who suffered from the mental health impacts of the pandemic manifested signs of depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Meanwhile, external symptoms included irritability, lack of attention, and hyperactivity.

More vulnerable to this deterioration in mental health amid the pandemic were kids with neurodevelopmental disorders or pre-existing mental health conditions.

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“We found that some factors inherent to the child predicted poorer mental health during the pandemic: specifically, preexisting concerns related to anxiety and depression,” Evdokia Anagnostou, MD, child neurologist and professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, Ontario, and senior author of the study related to Medscape Medical News. “However, we also found that family and community factors impact the mental health of autistic kids and are good targets for intervention.”

Moreover, according to Anagnostou, more studies conducted by her group have revealed that children with autism were the most affected by mental health deterioration during this critical time. “Generally, outside of the pandemic, autistic children have higher rates of mental health concerns than the general population.”

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The study has also shown that there was an uneven distribution of mental health risk depending on a household’s resources.

As Melanie Dirks, Ph.D., professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and an expert in the social and emotional development of children and youth, commented for Medscape Medical News, “The take-home from this study is that it is consistent with a growing body of work documenting that the risks of the pandemic for children’s mental health and well-being were not evenly distributed across the population. Families with fewer resources are at greater risk, and we need to determine how best we can support those families, as well as to ensure continuity of services.”

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