The overarching goal of the current project is to investigate the short- and potential long-term psychosocial outcomes of widespread quarantine in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Shelter-in-place and social-distancing orders in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak have disrupted routines, removed social outlets, and decreased or eliminated specialized support. While most research has focused on investigating the social and psychological impacts associated with quarantine in the general population, very little is known regarding mental health outcomes in vulnerable populations. Children with ASD are particularly at increased risk for adverse consequences due to the higher prevalence of depression and anxiety in ASD. Moreover, children with ASD often struggle to behave in a flexible way when faced with unexpected challenges. As a result, the disruption in routine and services that confer support and stability for individuals with ASD is expected to amplify symptom severity, resulting in worse mental health outcomes. The current study will be the first to probe the psychological and social impacts of outbreak response in children with ASD by relating behavioral measures of symptom severity collected pre-quarantine and during the quarantine period with brain function. The knowledge gained from this study is critical to promote community recovery and maximize clinical preparedness to offer additional support to those at increased risk for adverse psychosocial outcomes.
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Miami