The Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine released a special issue addressing how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted children with disabilities. Because the disease COVID-19 mainly affects adults and older individuals, reporting on children has been limited. Researchers have found several ways disabled children have suffered directly and indirectly from the pandemic. They hope greater awareness will lead to positive changes.
COVID-19 in Children – The Risks for Those with Disabilities
The most obvious and direct impact of the pandemic is the disease itself. Only 2% of cases of COVID-10 are in children in the U.S. Most who contract the illness have mild or no symptoms. However, children with disabilities and special needs, like cerebral palsy, are more likely than others to have serious complications and respiratory problems.
Children with special needs may also be more vulnerable to multisystem inflammatory syndrome. This rare but dangerous complication causes inflammation in several parts of the body. It requires supportive and often emergency care.
The researchers indicate that a disabled child’s risk of contracting COVID-19 is directly related to their caregivers and family members. Many are exposed through these adults in their lives. They recommend better training and education for families. To lower the risk to their children, they must practice good hygiene, thorough and regular cleaning of assistive equipment, physical distancing, and limiting trips outside of the home.
Disrupted Healthcare for Disabled Children in the Pandemic
While the disease itself has directly impacted children with cerebral palsy and other special needs, changes to healthcare delivery have also had an effect. Many non-essential services were put on hold in 2020. There has also been a shift to telemedicine.
Both of these developments have negatively affected children with disabilities. Some children could not get needed therapies during the early days of the pandemic. Telemedicine may be the future of medicine, but these children require hands-on care.
However, the increase in telemedicine appointments can also be positive for children and protect them. Any services that can be provided this way for children or their families help reduce the risk of exposure.
Disparate Impacts of COVID-19
The study also notes that race and equity are also important to consider when exploring the pandemic’s impact. Children with disabilities are impacted more than other children, but within that group, children of color or living in poverty are even more disproportionately affected.
Researchers point out that healthcare systems and medical professionals must step up and make changes. Individuals need more training to ensure they provide the same level of care to all patients, including all disabled children.
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected everyone, but children with cerebral palsy and other conditions have suffered more than many others. Not only do they have a higher risk of getting sick and having complications, but their needed services have been disrupted. Healthcare providers, medical professionals, policymakers, and other adults must pay special attention to this vulnerable population.