New Study Shows Big Impact of Terrorism on Autistic Kids and Their Parents

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A new study found that terrorist attacks, like the one on October 7th, 2023, in Israel, cause a lot of stress for autistic children and their parents. In the month after the attack, both autistic and non-autistic kids showed signs of serious stress. Autistic children had even stronger reactions, and their parents felt more depression, anxiety, and stress. This shows that these families need special mental health help.

This is the first study to look at autistic children and their parents during a war. Dr. Judah Koller and his team from Hebrew University of Jerusalem did the study. They found that after the October 7th attack, autistic kids showed more stress symptoms than non-autistic kids, making them more vulnerable. Their parents also felt more depressed, anxious, and stressed than parents of non-autistic kids. These stress levels were 2-4 times higher than those reported by parents of autistic kids before the war.

Autistic kids rely on routine and predictability. Terrorist attacks and wars disrupt these routines, making stress worse for them. Dr. Koller said, “Parenting a child during wartime is hard for everyone, but it’s even harder for parents of autistic children. These families need mental health support that understands their special needs.”

The study used online questionnaires to collect data quickly from many people. Although the sample size was small, the findings are important. The researchers will continue studying this over the next year.

The research team has also collected more data from a bigger group of autistic and non-autistic children and their parents. They are working with Dr. Yonat Rum and others to understand how war affects these families. Their goal is to push for more mental health support for these vulnerable groups.

These findings show that all children and parents affected by conflict need ongoing mental health help. Policymakers and healthcare providers should focus on the specific needs of autistic children and their families, not just in Israel, but in other conflict areas around the world. This project is a joint effort with ALUT, Bar-Ilan University, and Ben-Gurion University.

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. For autistic children, changes in routine and unpredictable situations can make PTSD symptoms worse.

Key Insights:

  • Autistic children show more stress after terrorist attacks than non-autistic children.
  • Parents of autistic children feel more depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Families with autistic children need special mental health support during and after conflicts.
  • The study highlights the need for ongoing mental health services for all affected by war.

Source: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Seymour Fox School of Education

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