Core experiences of parents of children with autism during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown

Itay Tokatly Latzer*, Yael Leitner, Orit Karnieli-Miller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The lockdown that was imposed by governments as part of the attempt to contain the COVID-19 pandemic included extreme measures, such as home confinement and the shutting down of special education systems. Our aim was to learn about the core experiences of parents of children with autism during this significant life disturbance. Thirty-one parents of 25 children with autism participated in semi-structured telephone interviews which were transcribed verbatim and underwent a qualitative, immersion/crystallization analysis. The analysis was conducted in an iterative consensus-building process to identify parents’ experiences, concerns, challenges, coping strategies, and perceived needs during the lockdown. The main themes that emerged related to the various parental concerns; the major difficulties encountered during this unique time, the functional, social, and behavioral implications the lockdown had on these children; and the manner in which the parents coped as an indication of their resourcefulness and outlook. Our findings broaden the insight into the underlying elements of the hardships and gains experienced by children with autism and their parents in times of significant life adversity. Programs in such times should be directed at supporting and guiding parents on how to better accommodate to the situation, thereby optimizing their coping strategies and resilience. Lay abstract: The lockdown and home isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to significant transformation in lifestyles. Being a parent in this situation was not easy for anyone, much less for parents of children with special needs. The shutting down of special education systems meant that parents lost a vital support network and had to be the sole full-time caregivers despite often lacking the skills to cope with this new and daunting situation. We interviewed parents and learned that the main difficulties faced by homebound autistic children stemmed from the change in routine, lack of special education services, limited physical space, and food- and sleep-related issues. Some children experienced worsening in behavioral, social, and developmental domains, yet others seemed to not only overcome the challenges of changing conditions but even benefit from them. The children’s success or failure was directly related to how their parents coped. The key factors that enabled successful coping were the parents’ ability to accommodate to the child’s needs, their own creativeness and resourcefulness, and a generally positive outlook. The results of this analysis revealed that the best way to benefit autistic children caught up in drastic changes in their routine lifestyle is to invest in a strong support system for their parents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1047-1059
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2021


  • COVID-19
  • autism
  • coronavirus
  • home isolation
  • lockdown
  • pandemic
  • special needs


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