Changes in access to educational and healthcare services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities during COVID-19 restrictions

J Intellect Disabil Res. 2020 Nov;64(11):825-833. doi: 10.1111/jir.12776. Epub 2020 Sep 17.


Background: COVID-19 restrictions have significantly limited access to in-person educational and healthcare services for all, including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs). The objectives of this online survey that included both national and international families were to capture changes in access to healthcare and educational services for individuals with IDDs that occurred shortly after restrictions were initiated and to survey families on resources that could improve services for these individuals.

Methods: This was an online survey for caregivers of individuals with (1) a genetic diagnosis and (2) a neurodevelopmental diagnosis, including developmental delay, intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder or epilepsy. The survey assessed (1) demographics, (2) changes in access to educational and healthcare services and (3) available and preferred resources to help families navigate the changes in service allocation.

Results: Of the 818 responses (669 within the USA and 149 outside of the USA), most families reported a loss of at least some educational or healthcare services. Seventy-four per cent of parents reported that their child lost access to at least one therapy or education service, and 36% of respondents lost access to a healthcare provider. Only 56% reported that their child received at least some continued services through tele-education. Those that needed to access healthcare providers did so primarily through telemedicine. Telehealth (both tele-education and telemedicine) was reported to be helpful when available, and caregivers most often endorsed a need for an augmentation of these remote delivery services, such as 1:1 videoconference sessions, as well as increased access to 1:1 aides in the home.

Conclusions: COVID-19 restrictions have greatly affected access to services for individuals with syndromic IDDs. Telehealth may provide opportunities for delivery of care and education in a sustainable way, not only as restrictions endure but also after they have been lifted.

Keywords: Autism; COVID-19; Genetics; Intellectual disability; Parents.