Logo StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better CanadaThe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian families of children with disabilities

by Rubab Arim, Leanne Findlay and Dafna Kohen

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This article provides disaggregated data to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on specific groups. Visit the Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics Hub for more analysis, including disaggregated data on labour, public safety, health and more.

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Despite the various resources that are available for families of children with disabilities (see the CanChildNote , Child-Bright NetworkNote , and Children’s Healthcare CanadaNote  websites for examples), relatively little is known about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on families of children with disabilities. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may have been particularly hard for these families because of school closures, reductions in services, and the additional challenges related to caring for children with disabilities (see Hango, 2020), including ­̶ but not limited to attending clinic and therapy appointments, receiving respite and rehabilitation services, and obtaining medical equipment, which may have been further amplified during COVID-19. The purpose of this report is to examine differences in experiences between families of children with and without disabilitiesNote  during the COVID-19 pandemic as reported by parents or guardians of children aged 0 to 14 years.

Results from this study are based on a crowdsourcing data collection, and therefore cannot be generalized to the overall Canadian population. Readers should note that a greater proportion of crowdsourcing participants who voluntarily completed this online questionnaire between June 9 and June 22 were female, born in Canada, and had a Bachelor’s degree or aboveNote . In addition, it is important to note that if participants had more than one child, they provided an overall average for their children. Thus, the observed differences, particularly in children’s activities, cannot be interpreted as differences between children with and without disabilities per se. 

Almost one in five (19%) crowdsourcing participants indicated that they had at least one child aged 0 to 14 years in their home with at least one type of disability (hereinafter termed children with disabilities). The largest proportion (84%) of these participants indicated a cognitive, behavioural or emotional disability such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while 4% indicated a permanent physical disability such as deaf or hard of hearing, 7% indicated another type of disability, and 6% indicated a combination of at least two of these types of disabilitiesNote .

Many parent participants are concerned about their children but a higher proportion of parents of children with disabilities are very or extremely concerned

When asked about various concerns for their children, about 7 in 10 participants were very or extremely concerned about their children’s opportunities to socialize with friends regardless if a child with disabilities was in the household. However, notable differences were observed for other concerns. For example, about 7 in 10 parents of children with disabilities were very or extremely concerned about the amount of screen time their children were engaging in compared with 6 in 10 parents of children without disabilities. About 6 in 10 parents of children with disabilities were very or extremely concerned about loneliness or isolation for their children compared with about 5 in 10 parents of children without disabilities (Chart 1).

The largest difference among participants was observed for school year and academic success: while 58% of parents of children with disabilities were very or extremely concerned for their children’s school year and academic success, the figure was at 36% for parents of children without disabilities (see Reid & Greenlee, 2020 for additional results on supporting learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic). Finally, a greater proportion of parents of children with disabilities reported to be very or extremely concerned for their children’s mental health compared with parents of children without disabilities (60% vs. 43%).

Chart 1 Crowdsourcing participants' concerns for their children aged 0 to 14 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, by presence of children with disabilities at home

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 1 Children without disabilities and Children with disabilities, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Children without disabilities Children with disabilities
percent
General physical health 21.6 27.6
General mental health 42.8 60.4
Loneliness or isolation 51.6 63.0
School year and academic success 35.6 57.6
Opportunities to socialize with friends 70.2 73.8
Amount of screen time 61.7 72.6
Online safety 22.3 34.4
Amount of physical activity 35.5 49.4
Eating junk food or sweets 20.0 28.3

Crowdsourcing participants were also asked about various concerns for their family. One notable difference was observed between parents of children with and without disabilities.  Just over three quarters (76%) of parents of children with disabilities were very or extremely concerned about managing their children’s behaviours, stress levels, and anxiety and emotions compared with 57% of parents of children without disabilities (Table 1). This difference is expected since a large proportion of participants (84%) indicated a cognitive, behavioural or emotional disability, which are often associated with stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems (Ogundele, 2018).


Table 1
Crowdsourcing participants' concerns for their family due to the COVID-19 pandemic, by presence of children with disabilities at home
Table summary
This table displays the results of Crowdsourcing participants' concerns for their family due to the COVID-19 pandemic Children without disabilities, Children with disabilities, Not at all, Somewhat, Very and Extremely, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Children without disabilities Children with disabilities
Not at all Somewhat Very Extremely Not at all Somewhat Very Extremely
percent
Staying connected with family or friends 9.0 48.1 32.6 10.3 8.4 48.3 34.0 9.3
Getting along and supporting each other 22.4 41.4 26.9 9.3 17.9 39.7 30.6 11.8
Balancing child care, schooling and work 6.9 19.8 30.1 43.1 6.0 16.9 29.6 47.5
Managing your child's or children's behaviours, stress levels, anxiety and emotions 8.9 33.9 34.0 23.2 3.2 21.3 36.9 38.6
Feeling lonely in your own home 35.8 35.5 18.2 10.4 29.3 36.3 20.6 13.8
Having less patience, raising your voice, scolding or yelling at your children 14.9 40.1 27.0 18.0 13.6 38.4 27.5 20.5

About half of the parents of children with disabilities said that their children are reading and also engaging in physical activity on a daily basis

Crowdsourcing participants indicated that their children were engaged in a variety of different activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 9 in 10 indicated that their children were engaging in screen time daily or almost daily regardless of whether  a child with disabilities was in the household. However, two differences were noted. About half of parents who had children with disabilities indicated that their children were reading books or stories daily or almost daily compared with just under two-thirds of parents of children without disabilities. About half of parents who had children with disabilities in the household also indicated that their children were engaging in physical activity daily or almost daily compared with about 6 in 10 children without disabilities (Chart 2)Note .

Chart 2 Children's daily participation in activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, by presence of children with disabilities at home

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 2 Children without disabilities and Children with disabilities, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Children without disabilities Children with disabilities
percent
Reading books or stories 65.7 47.5
Screen time 87.2 94.1
Games 24.4 17.2
Music, drama or visual arts 22.6 16.0
Physical activities 63.2 49.9
Structured academic activities 26.5 31.7
Developing other skills 18.3 15.6

Overall, while crowdsourcing participants’ various concerns for their family were similar between parents of children with and without disabilities, a higher proportion of parents of children with disabilities were very or extremely concerned for their children’s amount of screen time, loneliness or isolation, general mental health, school year and academic success. 

Methodology

Results for this study were drawn from Statistics Canada’s crowdsourcing data collection series The Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians: Parenting during the Pandemic. From June 9 to June 22, 2020, over 32,000 participants voluntarily completed the online questionnaire that was designed to collect information from parents of children aged 0 to 14 about their concerns for their children and families as well as the activities of their children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Readers should note that crowdsourcing data are not collected under a probability-based sampling design. As a result, the findings cannot be applied to the overall Canadian population. Please refer to Findlay and Arim (2020) for additional results about parents from this data collection initiative.

References

Arim, R. G., Kohen, D. E., Brehaut, J. C., Guèvremont, A., Garner, R. E., Miller, A. R., McGrail, K., Brownell, M., Lach L. M., & Rosenbaum, P.L. (2015). Developing a non-categorical measure of child health using administrative data. Health Reports, 26(2), 9-16.

Findlay, L., & Arim, R. (2020, July). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian families and children. (The Daily).

Greenlee, E., & Reid, A. (2020). Parents supporting learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 45-28-0001 2020001 no. 00040. Statistics Canada. Ottawa.

Hango, D. (2020). Support received by caregivers in Canada. Insights of Canadian Society. Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 75-006-X.

Ogundele, M. O. (2018). Behavioural and emotional disorders in childhood: a brief overview for paediatricians. World journal of clinical pediatrics7(1), 9.

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