1 in 5 Canadians care for someone with a disability. While most of these caregivers receive support, over 30% report that the support(s) they receive are insufficient.
Nearly 50% of these caregivers with unmet needs are caring for their child. Taking into consideration the high number of caregivers of children with disabilities who already feel their needs are not met, the COVID-19 pandemic has created many additional challenges including cancelled specialist appointments, reduced or inaccessible supports, and barriers to receiving health care, among others.
Parents of children, in general, have reported changes in their children during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, parents have noted their children’s difficulty concentrating, boredom, irritability, restlessness, and nervousness. Parents of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), specifically, have raised concerns about the lack of supports, disruption in daily routines, and mental health challenges.
With public schools closing across Canada in the spring of 2020, many families, with or without children with disabilities, were found seeking last-minute child care arrangements; parenting and supporting their children’s education from home; and balancing these new challenges and responsibilities with working from home. However, for families of children with disabilities, COVID-19 has intensified the unique challenges and associated stressors they face.
In a newly published study about the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian families, researchers found that parents of children with disabilities were more concerned for their children’s wellbeing compared to parents of children without disabilities. They worried about their children’s general physical health, general mental health, loneliness or isolation, school year and academic success, opportunities to socialize with friends, amount of screen time, online safety, amount of physical activity, and eating junk food or sweets.
Parents were also asked to report on their children’s daily activities. Parents of children with disabilities more often reported their children had screen time and spent time doing structured academic activities. Parents of children without disabilities more often reported their children were reading, playing games, engaging in the arts, taking part in physical activities, and developing other skills.
The recent survey did not specifically assess the level of stress experienced by caregivers of children with FASD. It has previously been found that caregivers of individuals with FASD experience more stress than caregivers of children with other disabilities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or of typically developing children.
All families experience challenges at the best of times. During COVID-19, everyone has additional concerns, but families with children who have disabilities may be experiencing a greater level of stress and facing unique challenges. CanFASD and other organizations have developed several resources to help caregivers and individuals with FASD adapt to some of the current challenges and limitations imposed by COVID-19.