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Background: The COVID-19 pandemic brought an increased incidence of disease and mortality in the world at large, making it a particularly salient and stressful life event. For those individuals residing in Latin America, the pandemic was met with fragmented healthcare systems, economic downturn, and sociopolitical crisis which puts autistic individuals at risk for more detrimental outcomes. Behavioral and emotional challenges experienced by autistic individuals at the beginning of the pandemic could later develop into more severe symptomatology as the pandemic progresses. The present study aimed to explore changes in dysregulated (overt and internalizing) behaviors and preoccupation with getting sick during the COVID-19 pandemic among autistic children in 7 Latin American countries.

Method: Sample consisted of 1,743 caregivers, residing in: Argentina (n = 677, 38.8%) Brazil (n = 156, 9%), Chile (n = 251, 14.4%), Dominican Republic (n = 171, 9.8%), Mexico (n = 126, 7.2%), Uruguay (n = 259, 14.9%) and Venezuela (n = 103, 5.9%). The majority of caregivers who completed the questionnaire were mothers (85.1%), and most had a male autistic child (81.6%). A series of independent sample t-tests were conducted to assess country differences in dysregulated behaviors and preoccupation with getting sick. Linear regressions were conducted to identify which demographic characteristics and micro-level contextual factors predicted dysregulated overt behaviors and psychological changes.

Results: Contextual factors, such as country of residence, were related to preoccupation with getting sick and dysregulated behavior. Particularly, residing in Mexico and Brazil were related to changes in preoccupation with getting sick and mental health concerns. Coexistence predicted dysregulated internalizing behaviors, while being older significantly predicted preoccupation with getting sick. Increased screen time only predicted anxiety.

Conclusion: Our findings highlight differences and predictions of behavioral challenges and psychological changes based on certain contextual factors and individual characteristics while experiencing severe life stressors such as a worldwide pandemic. This knowledge could help inform policies and decrees aimed at protecting those most vulnerable due to their increased difficulty adapting to change.


© 2023 Montenegro, Ramírez, Hernandez Rodriguez, Villalobos, Garrido, Amigo, Valdez, Barrios, Cukier, Rattazzi, Rosoli, García, Paula, Liz and Montiel-Nava. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Publication Title

Frontiers in Psychiatry



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Psychology Commons



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