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Research
Wednesday 03 February 2021

Autistic children facing mental health crisis during lockdown

The mental health and wellbeing of autistic children and young people has deteriorated significantly in lockdown, according to Ambitious about Autism.

During Children’s Mental Health Week 2021, the charity has published research revealing that nearly two thirds (63%) of autistic children and young people’s mental health is worse than before the outbreak of the pandemic. Before Coronavirus, research showed that four in five children with autism experienced mental health issues.

The survey of over 2000 autistic children and young people and their parents and carers commissioned by the charity, reveals the fallout from the pandemic could be long-lasting for these already vulnerable young people.

Three quarters of respondents (75%) said they felt more anxious since the pandemic and over half described feeling stressed (56%) and overwhelmed (54%) during Coronavirus.

At a time when there are already long waiting lists for support from child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), three quarters of respondents think that they will need ongoing support for anxiety or mental health issues following Coronavirus.

One young person, responding anonymously to the survey, said: “Medical services have been cancelled, routines lost, there are things we can’t do and people we can’t see anymore. For me this has caused trouble with an eating disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder- almost agoraphobia.”

Young people and parents report that access to vital mental health services and other support services during the pandemic has been disrupted. Before Coronavirus more than half of respondents (58%) said they were receiving specialist support in education and one fifth were receiving mental health support. However, 80% said this support reduced or stopped during the first lockdown. Two thirds of people said they did not receive any support. This can have devastating consequences for autistic children and young people and their families.

One parent, responding anonymously through the survey said: “My 11-year-old daughter tried to take her own life twice in May. She spent nine weeks in a general hospital because there was nowhere else to go. Specialist units were closed due to Covid-19.”

Jolanta Lasota, Chief Executive of Ambitious about Autism, said: “The pandemic has had a disastrous impact on the mental health and wellbeing of autistic children and young people.

"Routine, structure and predictability - so crucial in helping autistic children manage an often-challenging world, have all been stripped away. Meanwhile, disruption to vital support in education and access to mental health services has caused an increase in mental health problems and anxiety.

"The setbacks faced by autistic young people, already among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society, will have repercussions for years to come, affecting their health, wellbeing, happiness and ambitions for the future. Decision-makers must take action to protect them and ensure their needs are at the heart of the recovery.”

Ambitious about Autism is one of a coalition of autism charities supporting the National Autistic Society’s Left Stranded campaign, calling for the government to create an action plan to protect autistic people and their families from the fallout from the pandemic.

The charity, who runs two schools and a specialist college for autistic children and young people, is also calling on the government to prioritise special school staff for the Coronavirus vaccine, to protect both vulnerable young people, their families and those who support them on the frontline.

During the pandemic, Ambitious about Autism has been running online peer support sessions for autistic young people nationally, helping them connect with others and promote mental wellbeing during this challenging time. 

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