As part of an international study, ARCAP researcher, Dr Ru Ying Cai took a close look at the main causes of anxiety and concern among Australian families with autistic and special needs children and what coping strategies are being used by children.
The study involved 74 Australian parents of children with special needs. Eighty-four percent of these participants were parents of children on the spectrum.
Changes in routine, loss of support, reduction in social interaction and COVID-19 itself were the main concerns of parents and children.
Establishing a daily routine, spending time alone and engaging in distracting activities were reported by parents to be the best strategies for children to cope with COVID-related anxiety and concern.
Like parent, like child … and vice versa
The study found anxiety levels of 74% of parents and 46% of children have increased since the pandemic started.
“Interestingly, we found a strong bi-directional relationship between children’s and parent’s COVID-19 related anxiety and concerns. This means children’s concerns predicted parent’s concerns and vice versa,” says Dr Cai.
Making a difference
The findings of this study highlight the importance for mental health clinicians supporting families of autistic and special needs children to take into account the bi-directional relationship of anxiety.
This study will help build the evidence base on the needs of children with special needs including autistic children and their families during crises and help to improve support at times of great disruption.