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Monday, February 26, 2024

Autism, COVID, and Inequality

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges were especially tough during the pandemic.

Anderson, K.A., Radey, M., Rast, J.E. et al. The Economic Impacts of COVID-19 on Autistic Children and Their Families. J Autism Dev Disord (2024).



We used data from the National Survey of Children’s Health to (1) examine differences in economic hardship and safety net program use after the implementation of federal relief efforts, and (2) assess whether the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated autism-based disparities in hardship and program use.

We examined five dimensions of economic hardship (poverty, food insecurity, medical hardship, medical costs, and foregone work) and four safety net programs (cash assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and free or reduced-cost meals). First, we calculated adjusted prevalence and odds ratios to compare pre-COVID (2018–2019) and during COVID (2021) outcomes by autism status. Next, we calculated the adjusted odds of each outcome among autistic children compared to those of children with and without other special healthcare needs at both time points.

COVID-19 exacerbated autism-based disparities in food insecurity, SNAP, and public health insurance, but alleviated inequities in medical hardship, foregone work, and cash assistance. Autistic children did not experience declines in food insecurity or increases in SNAP like other children; medical hardship and foregone work decreased more for autistic children; and the magnitude of autism-based differences in public coverage significantly increased during the pandemic.

Federal relief efforts likely improved economic outcomes of children; however, these effects varied according to type of hardship and by disability group. Efforts to promote economic well-being among autistic populations should be tailored to the financial challenges most salient to low-income autistic children, like food insecurity.