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Mental health in teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder two years into the pandemic

Author: Angie Levin, MS, SLP, Behavioral Health Clinic Coordinator

These past two years have taken a toll on our children’s social and mental development and well-being. Recent data released by the CDC sheds light on the impact the pandemic has on high schoolers’ mental health. The data shows increased reports of teens feeling persistently sad, poor mental health, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and caregiver loss of job. Recent reports also show that the key protective factor has been connectedness with school, family or other key people or organizations in their life.

Our children have had few and far between social opportunities, extended screen time, loss or reductions in services, overwhelmed parents, and teachers struggling to teach in a whole new way. Socialization is a key skill deficit in an autism diagnosis, so just imagine how much harder these changes have been for someone with autism!

Some data is beginning to show that many children are not as negatively impacted by facemasks as was once predicted, and in turn, have become much better at using and reading body language out of necessity. However, reading body language can often be very challenging for someone with autism.

A few tips to help:

  • Be expressive with your body AND words!
  • Check in on communication, ask if they understand or need clarification.
  • Check in on feelings—ask but also watch! Help make sure each child and teen has a trusted adult they can count on.
  • Turn off your screens—TV, phone, tablet, smartwatch, laptop, etc., especially when your child or teen is around. Have a conversation, play a game or do an activity together. Be the role model they need.
  • Get them connected with support and services to boost their well-being.

If you’d like to learn more about Mercyhealth’s diagnostic or autism services, or social skills classes, contact our autism team at 608.756.8226 or