The purpose of this study was to investigate whether service losses during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic were associated with worsened parent mental health or child behavioral health among families of children with autism spectrum disorder and to identify factors associated with favorable parent appraisals of habilitative teletherapy (applied behavior analysis; speech, occupational, physical therapy) for their child.
This web-based survey study was conducted from May to July 2021 with parents whose children were receiving habilitative therapy for autism from an integrated health system. A total of 322 parents responded to the survey (20% response rate). The outcome variables were pandemic-related parent mental health, pandemic-related child behavioral health, and appraisal of habilitative teletherapy. Predictors were COVID-19–related services changes in health care or child care, COVID-19 history (COVID-19 stress, testing positive for COVID-19), and child autism factors (autistic behaviors, caregiving strain).
Loss of regular child care was associated with higher odds of worsened parent mental health (odds ratio [OR] = 2.7, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.5–4.8); higher levels of caregiving strain were associated with worsened child behavioral health (OR = 2.3, 95% CI = 1.4–3.8). Higher levels of COVID-19 stress were associated with more favorable appraisals of telehealth (β = 0.4, p < 0.01), whereas higher caregiving strain scores were associated with less favorable appraisals of telehealth (β = −0.2, p < 0.01).
During COVID-19, caregiving factors were associated with worsened parent mental health and worsened child behavioral health, and telehealth is not preferred by all families. Policy interventions to support caregivers, such as affordable, high-quality child care and paid family leave, are a high priority.