April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness of autism spectrum disorder. The Indian Health Service is virtually hosting the third annual World Autism Awareness Day Interagency Roundtable, which allows us to come together and discuss the work, research, and resources available among our agency partners in order to maximize the quality of life of those with autism spectrum disorder, their families, and caretakers. The theme for this year’s event is “Support During Times of Uncertainty.” As we all continue to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important to understand the unique challenges COVID-19 has posed to individuals on the spectrum and their families.
The COVID-19 Impact
While COVID-19 has affected everyone around the world, it has also had social, economic, and health-related impacts on the autism community. Current research has found that the pandemic exacerbated existing challenges people with autism face, especially children. Prior to the pandemic, children on the spectrum were 3.5 times more likely to report unmet health care needs compared to their peers without disability. Furthermore, families with children who have autism spectrum disorder have higher rates of food insecurity, which has been compounded by the economic strains of the pandemic and school closures.
COVID-19 has created disruptions in daily routines and additional stress and mental health challenges among members of the autism community. Families have reported difficulties in teaching their children with autism about the public health measures in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as washing hands frequently, wearing a mask, and social distancing.
There will likely be long lasting impacts of COVID-19 on the social and economic well-being of people with autism and their families and communities. During these times of change, it is important that practitioners, policymakers, and communities understand the broad impact COVID-19 is having on the autism community. That way, individuals with autism can be best served with the necessary support and resources.
Light It Up Blue
Looking for ways to promote autism awareness? Join the international community by participating in the Light It Up Blue initiative. Wear something blue on April 2 and use the hashtag #LightItUpBlue on social media to reflect support and acceptance for people with autism.
2021 Autism Awareness Interagency Roundtable
Autism Speaks: Learn the Signs of Autism
HHS Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee: Coronavirus Resources