NEW DELHI: While the entire country was affected by Covid-19-induced lockdown in 2020 and 2021, one of the worst affected were the people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The lockdown took a toll on their health bringing a significant delay in their development, particularly in children. It also had an impact on the individual as well as the family’s mental health and well-being.
According to Dr Madhukar Bhardwaj, Senior Consultant, Neurology at Aakash Healthcare in Dwarka, there was essentially no access to healthcare, counselling, or day-care centres for nearly two years. “It disturbed patterns, provoked behavioural issues in people with ASD. There was an increase in tele consultations, but not being able to travel had a negative effect on them,” said Dr Madhukar. She added, “According to recent studies published in Frontiersin, a website which writes on psychiatry, autistic people’s mental health has deteriorated as a result of the pandemic, as evidenced by increased anxiety, depression, and stress levels.”
The learning and developmental process for autistic children slowed down by two years. According to Indrani Basu, Head Parent and Family Trainings at Action for Autism, an NGO working to empower kids and adults with autism, parents and the families with autism affected children witnessed aggression and a major communication gap.
“Autistic children have an issue with changes and it was a challenge to make them understand the major change which Covid-19 brought. Movement and services were restricted and they could not even go for walks. They were not able to express their thoughts about the pandemic,” said Indrani.
Indrani also has a 29-year-old son who has the autism gene. She added that because of a communication gap, emotional outbursts and aggression became frequent. Meanwhile, doctors also said that due to health vulnerabilities such as co-occurring complicated physical and mental problems and melatonin deficiencies, autistic adults were more susceptible to viral infections.
“Since people with ASD have developmental diseases, their immune system is weak which makes them prone to Covid-19,”said Dr Praveen Gupta, Principal Director & Head, Department of Neurology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurugram.
He added that since schooling and special therapies were stopped, the only silver lining was the active parent participation but that also required training. According to Nidhi Datta, a member associated with Action for Autism, who also has a son with autism gene, it is very important for parents to get trained on how to deal with autistic children.