COVID-19: Click here for a message from our principal investigator, Dr. Wendy Chung.

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COVID-19 and its Impact on Autistic Adults in the SPARK Community

Dr. Wendy Chung, Principal Investigator of SPARK
Date Published: April 21, 2020

I want to thank all of the autistic adults who took the time to share how COVID-19 has affected their daily lives. When you joined SPARK, we promised to work with you to build the largest community of people dedicated to advancing autism research. You and the thousands of other autistic adults in SPARK continue to provide valuable information on a scale that was not previously possible. From March 30th to April 10th, a total of 636 SPARK participants responded to a brief Coronavirus survey specifically addressing the adult community.

Our goal was to learn how autistic adults, in particular, have been affected by COVID-19. We wanted to know about disruption of services and changes to employment, and how autistic adults were faring with mental, emotional, and physical health.

Slightly more than half of the survey respondents were female, 59 percent. The average age of all respondents was 36. We found some differences between males and females shown below. These differences are not included in the infographic summary of the survey findings.

  • Females reported that their services and therapies have changed more than males.
  • Females reported greater disruptions in their social life, home life, and finances due to COVID-19.
  • Females reported that their emotional and mental health have been more severely affected.
  • Males reported feeling less nervous, anxious, and on edge, and have had fewer physical reactions related to anxiety and stress than females.

We learned that overall, most people were experiencing disruptions to their social life, employment, and home life. For instance, 97 percent of respondents reported that COVID-19 has negatively affected their social life.

Eighty-nine percent of the autistic adults who reported changes to employment due to COVID-19 have been negatively affected.

Positive Results

Many autistic adults reported that they are using the time in positive ways by doing spring cleaning, journaling, gardening, crafting, and going for walks. Some respondents said that they were happier to have fewer social interactions, whereas others said that they were communicating with family or friends now more than ever, by video chat. Some respondents are limiting exposure to COVID-19 news in order to reduce anxiety.

Challenges

Some autistic adults reported that they are struggling with the upheaval. Many services and therapies have been reduced across the board, and survey respondents are feeling it. Some autistic adults are reporting that their therapies are on hold with no end in sight. Others say that if they do end up having an appointment, it is harder to talk openly with their therapist when they are at home. Social isolation is proving to be especially challenging as most public parks and libraries are now closed. Many autistic adults reported that they have experienced declining mental health and greater depression and anxiety as a result of COVID-19 disruptions.

In summary, autistic adults feel that their lives are very disrupted socially, emotionally, and financially. However, together we will pull through and I challenge you all to share your tips and tricks using #SPARKstrong so that we can all learn from each other.

See more findings from the survey in PDF format or PNG format. The results of a similar survey, which looked at how families have been affected by COVID-19, were published on April 3. A report of those findings is here.

Read another statement on COVID-19 here.

Even though we are geographically distant, we are together in spirit. And, we’re stronger together. We’re #SPARKstrong.