BACKGROUND: COVID-19 pandemic has generated anxiety and mental health issues in the common population . In general, anxiety and poor health are higher in parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than parents of children without ASD . However, the symptoms of anxiety, depression and poor mental health are likely to be more escalated in parents of children with ASD during COVID-19, possibly due to the emergency measures involving suspension of essential services, closure of schools, work-from-home policy and lack of professional support, etc .
AIM: This empirical research aimed to explore the attitude, anxiety and perceived mental health care of parents of children with ASD in the COVID-19 pandemic .
METHOD: A total of 211 participants, including mothers and fathers of children with ASD from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, participated in this online study . Along with demographic details, data on attitude, anxiety, mental health status and perceived mental health care were obtained using both self-reported questionnaire and reference standard questionnaire . The collected data were analysed using t-test, Pearson correlation analysis and linear regression analysis . The responses to open-ended questions were also collected and analysed qualitatively .
RESULTS: The study revealed that attitudes towards taking care of children with ASD were affected by parents' age and child's age, and mothers were more affected . Further, the anxiety of parents during COVID-19 was significantly higher than before the COVID-19 situation . It was found that parents' mental status during COVID-19 mediated the interaction between anxiety and perceived mental health care . Finally, the open-ended questions indicated that parents sought support from teachers, family members and therapists to deal with children with ASD during the pandemic outbreak . In the context of perceived mental health care, besides psychological and financial support, other measures like training sessions, online classes, etc., were recommended .
CONCLUSIONS: The findings of this study insisted on the importance of support from government and local health authorities to introduce interventions for parents and children with ASD to improve the overall mental health.