Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Disabled children and their families are at risk of developing “serious mental health issues”

A report published by the Disabled Children’s Partnership has found that disabled children and their families are at risk of developing serious mental health issues as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The findings from this report suggest that social isolation has contributed to issues including anxiety and stress levels in many disabled families across the UK.

Out of the 547 parents who completed the survey, the most commonly reported disabilities were learning disabilities (66%).

How did the pandemic affect disabled children?

Shockingly, over 90% of disabled children were found to be socially isolated, with nearly half of parents (49%) reporting that their child had not seen a friend either online or in person in the past month.

As a result, the development of life skills in disabled children has been negatively impacted. Around half of parents reported that the pandemic has harmed their child’s ability to communicate with others, interact with strangers and more generally, spend time out and about. These issues have all exacerbated disabled children’s poor emotional well-being.

On average, six out of 10 parents observed symptoms of anxiety, while 72% of parents reported that their child is often unhappy, downhearted or tearful.

How has Covid-19 affected the families of disabled children?

The pandemic has not only affected disabled children, but their families too. Both parents and siblings of the surveyed disabled children reported being negatively impacted as a result of Covid-19.

Almost 9 out of 10 parents reported some level of anxiety and 46% had probable depression. The survey also found that 86% of respondents had higher stress levels than expected population norms.

82% of parents felt the Covid-19 pandemic had also affected their other children; 67% of parents reported their child’s sibling to be having issues with their sleep, while 59% reported feelings of anxiety.

It is therefore unsurprising that 4 in 10 parents reported that their quality of life, and that of their disabled child, was worse in the last month, with 5 in 10 parents reporting the same for their other children.

What should be done?

The researchers are calling for a dedicated, funded Covid-19 recovery plan for disabled children and their families.

They suggest a holistic approach, designed to meet the needs of all the family. This should include supporting mental health and well-being, emphasising the importance of accessing activities and community groups which would help to overcome feelings of social isolation which many disabled children (and their families) have experienced during lockdown. 

Richard Kramer, Vice-Chair of the Disabled Children’s Partnership and Sense Chief Executive, said: “We have all felt disconnected from others at some point during this pandemic, but loneliness has disproportionally affected disabled people. Many disabled children and their families have felt overlooked during the pandemic, cut off from friends, their support networks, and local community.

“No child should miss out on opportunities to socialise, an education and therapies, and feel lonely and experience mental health issues as a result of this. We want to see an ambitious and funded Covid recovery and catch-up plan for disabled children covering not just education, but also health and wellbeing, so they receive the right care to meet their needs.”

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