“My son’s social skills were affected as a result of staying away from society for these past months,” parent admits
COVID-19 has had a significant effect on individuals and families with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Qatar, according to research presented at the virtual World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) 2020, with the pandemic disrupting necessary access to schools, recreation centers, and support services.
Dr. Fouad Al Shaban, Senior Scientist at Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), and Dr. Sanaa Al Harahsheh, Senior Associate of Research and Policy at WISH, discussed the effects of restrictions placed on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) community because of COVID-19.
The discussion followed the results of the first survey in Qatar to study the impact of COVID-19 on those with ASD, and was conducted by QBRI in collaboration with WISH and the Qatar Autism Society.
The primary, most obvious consequence of lockdown, was the ceasing of educational activities, and the closing of schools and rehabilitation centers, said Dr. Al Shaban
According to the study, 76 percent of those surveyed attended specialized schools or made use of rehabilitation centers with interventional therapies before COVID-19.
We hope that with the end of the pandemic and the potential coming of a vaccine… institutions will take measures to alleviate the effects the restrictions have had on those with ASD
However, once the pandemic hit, only 19 percent of people reported seeking some form of interventional therapy for their children. This drop in numbers also meant a lack of activities for children, which in turn, resulted in issues with children staying home all day and almost half expressing negative behaviors.
According to Dr. Al Harahsheh, a pause in interventional activities also showed regression, with a number of children forgetting or losing touch with things they had learned before the pandemic.
And not only did the pandemic affect children with ASD themselves, but their families and caregivers also struggled to adapt to changes in routines, causing an increase in stress levels among all family members.
Intervention should be kicked into high gear to cope with the pandemic
The lack of resources and therapies available remotely also prevented some families from adhering to lockdown rules, with 31 percent of survey-takers stating that staying at home all the time was not an option for children with ASD, as it negatively impacted their social development and happiness.
One parent who took the survey said: “Social isolation and feelings of loneliness were very difficult for me, and I know my son’s social skills were affected as a result of staying away from society for these past months.
“We hope that with the end of the pandemic and the potential coming of a vaccine – hopefully even before that – institutions will take measures to alleviate the effects the restrictions have had on those with ASD. Intervention should be kicked into high gear to cope with the pandemic,” Dr. Al-Shaban said.
WISH is Qatar Foundation’s global health initiative, and this year’s summit – held under the theme One World Our Health – is taking place from November 15-19. Free to attend, interested participants can register at 2020.wish.org.qa