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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world in so many ways. Families with children on the autism spectrum have been particularly impacted by quarantines and lockdowns. With many schools moved to a virtual model and clinics closed to patients, these children often have been forced to miss vital education and therapy opportunities.

To learn the full extent of how families with autism have been affected by the pandemic, researchers at the Thompson Center are taking part in an international study of families across the world. The study, called CRISIS AFAR (CoRonovIruS Health Impact Survey) (CRISIS) Adapted for Autism and Related Neurodevelopmental Conditions (AFAR), is aiming to survey thousands of families in North America, Italy, Ireland and Japan to determine how different levels of lockdown in various countries have impacted families with autism.

The researchers hope that by better understanding how the pandemic has affected and still is impacting families, services for these families can be adjusted to better meet their needs, even from a distance. The study leaders reached out to the Thompson Center for help.

“Our research database is incredibly valuable for studies like this because we have already connected with thousands of families with autism, which makes it simple for us to reach out to those families and ask for their participation,” said Dr. Kerri Nowell, a clinical psychologist and researcher at the Thompson Center.

Thompson Center researchers are contributing to this massive international undertaking by adding the CRISIS AFAR survey to another research survey the Center is currently conducting. This will allow for the study leaders to capture valuable information about the pandemic’s effects on American families throughout the Midwest.

“We are really interested to compare how different levels of lockdown across various countries have effected families differently,” Nowell said. “Places like Italy were under a total lockdown for months, while areas of the United States were under less restrictive lockdown rules. We want to know if
families experienced better or worse effects based on the level of lockdown as well as general problems or benefits that have arisen.”

Researchers have been collecting data from families around the world for many months and plan on continuing to follow families and the impacts of the pandemic until 2022. They hope to have early results soon.