Parenting Child Psychology and Behaviour

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on children with special needs

Shikha Batra
3 to 7 years

Created by Shikha Batra
Updated on Jun 10, 2021

Impact of COVID 19 pandemic on children with special needs

“We are having a tough time tending to Mihir's needs during this lockdown,” exclaimed Chandra, a father to a 7 year old child with special needs. 

“Everyday has been a struggle coping with her since the schools have shut down and even the therapeutic classes are not on while the lockdown continues. I really feel exhausted at the end of the day”, pointed out Sona, a mother to 5 year old autistic child Poojitha.

“Meltdowns have become frequent and heartbreaking. He is just not able to cope up with closure of school and misses his pals and teachers badly”, lamented Shravya, a mother to a 6 year old boy with severe intellectual disability.

These anecdotes share a glimpse of the struggle of three parents and their child with special needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has an adverse impact on all children with millions of children having their schooling curtailed this year. But the consequences have been devastating more so for a subset of children with special needs who have been quietly plagued with it due to lack of structure as well as missing out on crucial academic, social and emotional learning time. 

The children with special needs and disabilities have been particularly susceptible to changes which have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic which included unavailability of additional support services during the lockdown. They have been particularly hard hit and might face the consequences throughout their lives. These children are more likely to suffer from behavioral changes, due to drastic changes in their routine, lack of social engagement due to not being able to meet their teachers as well as friends, lack of planned activities, not being able to access learning materials as well as learning support. These children require familiar places and people to make sense of their world.

Impact of lockdown on children with special needs:

  • Regression in behavioral and social skills

  • Negative affect on their mental health

  • Lack of physical activity thereby leading to decline in physical health

  • Overdependence on technology 

  • Disruption in Learning and Communication skills

  • Discontinuation of their therapeutic services due to school distancing norms in place and/or loss or change of job of parents

  • Soaring of anxiety levels due to uncertainty and no respite for a prolonged period

  • Overall reduction in their quality of life

Parents might feel exhausted, overstressed, anxious and overburdened due to withdrawal of the support system. They have been dealing with many additional responsibilities such as work from home, household chores,taking care of other children along with a child with special needs who demands one-to-one care. Besides all this they are required to cut down expenditure in luxuries such as going out for dinners,or on holidays owing to financial constraints leading to no respite or break from all the stressors which is further becoming a cause for inducing mental stress.

Every child with special needs is different and his support needs might differ from the rest in the current scenario. It might be challenging for parents to cater to the needs of their child with special needs alone.

Here are certain strategies which might help the parents to cope up in the times that we are currently in:

  • Do not struggle alone. Take advice from people who specialize in dealing with children with special needs.

  • Putting contingency plans in place can help reduce stress. This will make you feel more prepared and less concerned.

  • Explain in simple terms why they can't go to school or outdoors and are required to stay back at home and discuss other things that are changing in the wake of the pandemic. This will help them understand better why these restrictions have been put and their routine has been jeopardized due to certain regular activities being abruptly stalled.

  • Assure them of the good times ahead and how life will be back on track once again when the risk has passed.

  • Establish daily routines by including exercise, planned activities, social engagement using digital media and sleep routines. Like all children, a child with special needs is used to specific routines and might feel unsettled by sudden or abrupt changes in it.

  • Plan other activities which help to keep them calm such as listening to music, gardening, baking or dancing. Pursuing their favorite hobby can make them feel relaxed. They can also pursue these activities online.

  • Due to school closures and restricted access to outdoor spaces parents can plan physical activities which are fun filled within the confines of their home. These activities can be tailored to the abilities as well as preferences of their child. This would not only help to improve physical fitness but mental well being as well besides helping to boost their self-confidence, self-esteem and motivation to continue.

  • Involve family members such as your partner, siblings and other members including your child with special needs in decision making. Family involvement is crucial and will further motivate the child. Besides, it will keep the family members connected with each other physically as well emotionally.

  • Try to help them maintain contact online with the person who normally supported them such as their teacher, school staff, doctors, therapists, counselors as well as their peer group. This would help 

  • Stay connected with other parents/ caregivers of children with special needs and social groups via video calls, and other digital platforms to get latest updates on guidelines, support services and other benefits for these children. This will also ensure that you don't feel alone and know that there are many families that have been in similar circumstances and learn from their experiences in how they are coping during these unprecedented times.

Disruption in daily routines is likely to induce mental stress in children with special needs. Difficulty in accessing the care they need imposed by lockdown has further worsened the situation. The struggles of their families have amplified in the current scenario. Hope the strategies mentioned above would help parents of children with special needs in coping with the difficult times that we all are currently in. 

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