Experts warn of pandemic's impact on children with autism

TOLEDO (WTVG) - Some families of young children with autism are devastated by a loss of services brought on by the pandemic.

There is a short window of opportunity where children with autism need intensive one-on-one behavioral therapy called Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA. The closure of early intervention schools has put this vital therapy on hold.

Asher Holloway just turned 4-years old on Mother’s Day. He was diagnosed with autism over the last year, and his parents Kayla and Jeremy Holloway immediately enrolled Asher into a school with ABA and group peer socialization for his social skills development.

“It’s a game-changer for Asher,” says Jeremy.

However, when the schools were ordered shut during the pandemic closures, they worried he would lose the progress he had made. The school did its best to provide the Holloways with at-home learning materials, but the social skill interaction was immediately lost.

“We want him to interact with children more and more and more," Holloway said. "It's an issue because the school, they have to follow regulations.”

Asher is now back to school for three days of one-on-one therapy, but the groups will have to wait indefinitely.

The play area at the Mercy Health Autism program has been empty for the last couple of months as this program was shuttered by the pandemic.

“It's been devastating for our families," Alexis Eggenberger, who runs the program, said. "We had families calling and even showing up weeks after we closed to ask for services.”

Eggenberger says they’re only able to provide telehealth services to families with mixed results.

“Our kiddos are not necessarily responding to us through the computer, so we're having to utilize the parents to do prompting," Eggenberger said, "the parents to help get the kiddos engaged in the telehealth practice.”

ABA is the only evidence-based treatment for children with autism, and it’s recommended for 30 to 40 hours a week.

“Any break in that means that we're losing the opportunity to develop skills and also that we're losing the opportunity to maintain those skills that we've already taught,” Eggenberger said.

While some of the other programs for autism have gone back to limited one-on-one services with kids, Mercy Health is expecting its program to be back online by early July.