The psychological effects of disasters on children with disabilities are understudied, despite evidence towards increased risk for complications after other types of trauma exposure. This study investigated the experience of children and youth with disabilities exposed to the 2017 Northern California wildfires, with a particular focus on psychological reactions. In-depth interviews were conducted with parents of 14 children and youth with disabilities one year post-disaster. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the interviews. Parents described the wildfires as traumatic events for both themselves and their children. Children and youth exhibited stress, grief, and other emotional and behavioral reactions during evacuation, in the immediate aftermath, and one year post-disaster. Navigating disability-related needs, such as accessible housing, contributed to parent stress post-disaster. School and community-based mental health efforts are described, along with a call for increased attention to disaster-related reactions in children with developmental disabilities. Suggestions for improving preparedness and response efforts that better support children with disabilities and their families post-disaster are given.
Keywords: Children with disabilities; Disaster; Families of people with disabilities; Traumatic exposure; Youth with disabilities.
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