All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Maria Hopkins

Advisory Committee Members

James Ernest

Kristi Guest

Bridge Kennedy

Kristi Menear

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Award

2023

Abstract

Play, especially social play, is crucial to child development and impacts their cognitive, socioemotional, and motor growth. Children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have social and motor impairments that act as barriers to their access to these critical social play opportunities. Those who are able to overcome these barriers through therapy have been shown to have better physical and mental outcomes. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic restricted social play opportunities for all children and disproportionately impacted children with ASD, further widening developmental gaps between them and their non-autistic peers. The development of the COVID-19 vaccine and its availability to children was a momentous milestone in the timeline of the pandemic but concerns about the safety of the vaccine along with misinformation about the virus and the vaccine have led to vaccine hesitancy, which may have long-term impacts on the trajectory of the pandemic. The aim of this dissertation was to examine how the COVID-19 pandemic and its progression over time impacted children’s access to social play opportunities. Two anonymous surveys were created and distributed to parents of children with and without an ASD diagnosis ages 5-12 to gain an understanding of how the pandemic impacted these families. The first survey was distributed in 2021, and the second survey was distributed in 2023 after the vaccine became available to the targeted age group. Study 1 examined how the pandemic and whether having a diagnosis of ASD impacted children’s active play levels using the 2021 survey results. Study 2 compared the results of children’s social play opportunities and technology use from the 2021 survey to the 2023 survey. Finally, Study 3 explored if there was an association between parent vaccination status and their child’s vaccination status and social play opportunities and their own perceptions of the safety of social play. Together, the results of the three studies give us a better understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic, moderating factors, and availability of the vaccine impacted children’s social play opportunities and give us some insight into potential long-term public health considerations.

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