Media advisory

Friday August 28, 2020


COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked disproportionate havoc on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (DID), write directors of Centers for Research on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDDRC) Network, a national group funded by the NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The article was written by John Constantino, MD, director of the IDDRC at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, along with other directors of the IDDRC and leaders of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities . It appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Large numbers of people with IDD who need in-person care have lost the support of trained caregivers and community service providers due to the pandemic. The authors note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have issued guidelines for group homes, schools and others responsible for the care of people with IDD. It is essential to ensure that when they return to work, caregivers apply techniques and procedures to protect clients from infection, the authors write. In addition, people with DID depend on caregivers and loved ones to help them fill gaps in intellectual and communication skills. In the absence of this human contact, the authors call for virtual care and support, where it is viable. Those who cannot benefit from screen-based supports should be given priority to receive in-person services.

The suspension of class time also disproportionately affects children with DID, who often require special educational services, increased teacher-to-student ratios and specialized interventions, many of which must be administered in person, the authors note. It is difficult for families to take on these tasks and skilled surrogate mothers at home should be mobilized whenever possible to meet this need and support the efforts of parents.

Additionally, people with DID often cannot verbalize their symptoms during telemedicine appointments, and doctors should use their best judgment to provide in-person care if needed, according to the authors. The article emphasizes that people with DID who are infected with COVID-19 should have equal access to appropriate testing and medical care.


Melissa Parisi, MD, head of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities branch of NICHD, is available for comment.


Constantino, et al. The impact of COVID-19 on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: clinical and scientific priorities. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 2020.

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