COVID-19 School of Medicine

COVID-19 disproportionately affects developmentally disabled

Writing on behalf of the directors of the nation's 13 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers, John N. Constantino, MD, co-director of Washington University's IDDRC, stresses that children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are facing major burdens linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Getty Images)

As the nation’s children, teens and college students attempt to start a new school year amidst debate regarding how best to resume education during the COVID-19 pandemic, a segment of the population in desperate need of in-person supports often is overlooked in the decision-making process, according to a group of experts on the topic.

“In decision-making on the return to school for the current academic year, much of the discussion about whether and how to resume in-person education has overlooked the needs of children in special education,” said John N. Constantino, MD, co-director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

In a letter published Aug. 28 in The American Journal of Psychiatry, Constantino, writing on behalf of the directors of the nation’s 13 Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Research Centers, stresses that children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are facing major, disproportionate burdens linked to the pandemic. The directors collaborated on the letter to raise awareness and bring focus to the problems that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families are facing.

“Although there is public awareness of some of the challenges imposed by the pandemic on individuals with disabilities, the totality of the impact on a family or a person with such disabilities can go unrecognized, even by professionals,” said Constantino, the Blanche F. Ittleson Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics. “Imagine, for example, a child with a developmental disability complicated by behavioral outbursts. That child may be doing well in a structured educational setting with individualized instruction but may be unmotivated by virtual learning. If that child’s school has converted exclusively to remote learning, there likely will be no trained personnel to provide individualized instruction at home.”

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