COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts on Children with Developmental Disabilities: Service Disruption, Transition to Telehealth, and Child Wellbeing

Saijun Zhang, Ying Hao, Yali Feng, Na Youn Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in substantial service disruption and transition from in-person services to telehealth for children with developmental disabilities. However, there is limited knowledge about the specific dimensions and consequences of the disruption and transition. This study aims to examine the extent of service disruption and transition, the experiences of client children and their caregivers with telehealth vis-à-vis in-person services, and the impacts of the disruption and transition on child wellbeing. The cross-sectional study collected data from parents of children with developmental disabilities using an online survey. McNemar's tests were used to compare service changes before and after the pandemic outbreak, and multivariate analyses were used to examine how service changes were associated with child wellbeing. Results show that more than two-thirds of the children experienced reduction in service amount, and one-third lost services for more than two months in about five months into the pandemic. While telehealth had comparable features relative to in-person services, it had lower ratings with respect to diagnostic accuracy, treatment effectiveness, and rapport building. Service disruption/transition and social isolation were associated with behavioral and emotional deterioration in children. However, child and family stress may have confounded these adverse effects. We concluded that the magnitude of service disruption and transition was large in the first half year after the pandemic outbreak, and the amount and duration of service loss varied substantially across clients. Diagnostic accuracy, treatment efficacy, and rapport building were areas in which parents had major concerns toward telehealth relative to in-person services. However, such drawbacks may partially be due to the limited logistics in telehealth implementation during the pandemic. Service disruption and transition seemed to contribute to family stress, which played a direct role in eroding child wellbeing. Implications of these findings for future research and practices are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3259
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 10 2022


  • children with developmental disabilities
  • service disruption
  • service transition
  • child wellbeing
  • COVID-19

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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