Kennedy Krieger Institute Tracks Attitudes on COVID-19 Among Families of Children with Disabilities

BALTIMORE, December 14, 2020—In early 2021, Kennedy Krieger Institute researchers will begin to document attitudes about the impact of COVID-19 on the health and wellness of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Researchers will conduct online focus groups with parents and guardians of students in Kennedy Krieger’s schools. Of particular focus are parents’ and caregivers’ thoughts on COVID-19 testing. 

The focus groups are part of a larger project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and which is overseen by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The university’s researchers will provide rapid COVID-19 testing to students, teachers and administrators in the six special education schools operated by the Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD). The goal is to remove obstacles related to testing and decrease the burden of COVID-19 for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Due to underlying medical conditions experienced by many children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, this population is at a higher risk for developing COVID-19 and even severe complications. At the same time, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted these children, in part because they rely on daily structure and in-person support for learning and social growth. Through this project, researchers also will assess educational disparities affecting students.

“We know that students with disabilities have faced so many challenges during the pandemic,” says Bradley Schlaggar, MD, PhD, president and CEO of Kennedy Krieger Institute. “Through this project, we will better understand how to help this population in future public health crises as well as assist them now during this critical time.”

Participating in the study from Kennedy Krieger, in addition to Dr. Schlaggar, are Dr. Linda Myers, vice president of School Autism Services; Maureen van Stone, director, Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities and Director of Project HEAL; and Dr. Luther Kalb, director of the Informatics Program at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders.

Funding stems from $234 million awarded by the NIH to 32 medical centers as part of the agency’s initiative to provide underserved communities with rapid testing for COVID-19.

The project will be shaped by ongoing advice from a Community Advisory Board made up of diverse members of the public convened by the Institute for Public Health, the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences and the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC), all at Washington University.

John N. Constantino, MD, the Blanche F. Ittleson Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics and psychiatrist-in-chief at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, is a co-principal investigator of this grant. He also co-directs the IDDRC.

Among non-infected people in the United States, “few are more adversely affected by COVID-19 than individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, given that a vast proportion require in-person care or critical therapeutic support within their living environments, with little backup or systematic coverage for prolonged interruption of services,” wrote Constantino, in a letter published Aug. 28 in The American Journal of Psychiatry, on behalf of the directors of the nation’s 15 Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Research Centers. “

This research is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant numbers Ul1TR002345, P50HD103525, P50HD103525S1.

About Kennedy Krieger Institute:  

Kennedy Krieger Institute, an internationally known, non-profit organization located in the greater Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region, transforms the lives of more than 25,000 individuals a year through inpatient and outpatient medical, behavioral health and wellness therapies, home and community services, school-based programs, training and education for professionals and advocacy. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children, adolescents and adults with diseases, disorders or injuries that impact the nervous system, ranging from mild to severe. The Institute is home to a team of investigators who contribute to the understanding of how disorders develop, while at the same time pioneer new interventions and methods of early diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Visit for more information about Kennedy Krieger.     



Jessica Gregg
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