IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Autistic people’s mental health suffering during lockdown

7 July 2020

Research by Dr Dagmara Dimitriou, Dr Liz Halstead and Autistic Advocate reveals that the COVID-19 lockdown has had an impact on 73% of autistic individuals’ mental health.

Adult stress

Dr Dimitriou and Dr Halstead, of UCL Institute of Education (IOE), conducted the survey on 583 autistic adults during lockdown. Most of the responders had pre-existing mental health conditions (85%) but these had become worse during the lockdown. Also, 23% of autistic people reported that the lockdown has caused new mental health problems.

Sleep appears to have become worse for those surveyed, with 79% reporting sleep disturbances and feeling anxious more than before (44%). Despite the number of people struggling, 73% reported a lack of healthcare or social support with 22% indicating that they feel abandoned.

One respondent said: “Living under lockdown I am feeling the financial stresses and anxiety at keeping my family safe but the way my PTSD encapsulates the world feels little different other than an increased hypervigilance. It feels as if the world has caught up with my trauma rather than me emerging from sensing danger and unspecified fear, flashbacks and poor sleep. It has increased my feelings of disassociation and isolation from a lack of face to support.”

Dr Dimitriou said: “The COVID-19 lockdown has shown many problems with the provision of mental and physical health intervention and little consideration has been given to the difficulties faced by autistic adults in adapting quickly to changes, such as the use of online services for medication, therapies, and shopping. During this crisis, the services and elective treatments have been suspended, suggesting that autistic population is in silent crisis with no alternatives or plans put forward.

“It is essential that healthcare providers and autism related-services use autism specific signposting and are providing support as to how to manage mental health issues as an autistic adult during the pandemic.

“Urgent work is required to improve the co-operation between community health services and mental-health-care providers as well as accessibility of different types of provision such as telehealth. We recommend including autistic adults to form collaborative team to strengthen support and treatment pathways becoming interwoven and integral in existing services.”