COVID-19 in children with disabilities
There is a lot of misinformation about what happens to children, particularly children with disabilities, were they to become COVID-19 positive. Reframing Disability has answered some of the questions frequently asked in the disability community.
Will my child be very sick?
In general, children cope much better with COVID-19 than adults. Of 171 children care for by the Royal Children’s Hospital during Melbourne’s peak in 2020, 36% were asymptomatic and 58% had mild disease. Eight percent were admitted to hospital, mostly for observation or fluid rehydration.
Occasionally, rare complications such as paediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS) or sepsis may occur. There is not enough evidence to know whether disability increases the risk of developing these complications. Some research has found increased trends in hospitalisation or poorer outcomes in children or adolescents with disability and underlying health conditions, but the numbers remain very small, even among this group  . As long as you are well enough, you are allowed to stay with your child if they are admitted to the COVID ward.
Your child’s paediatrician will be able to explain their risk factors and what you should do if your child tests positive to COVID-19. It is important to get your child tested as soon as symptoms appear, so that treatment can be started if necessary.
What happens if I get sick?
If one parent or carer tests positive to COVID-19, but the other family members do not, your child should be isolated from the COVID positive parent.
If it is not possible to isolate at home, you can discuss being moved to special health accommodation. If all adult carers are unwell and need to go to hospital, your child will be cared for by the “Home at Hospital” program through the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network (SCHN).
This program uses nurses and allied health teams to provide a supportive environment while a child’s parents are in hospital, including schooling, child life and music therapy, and mental health support. The program is also run in regional and rural areas, in consultation with SCHN.
Hospital in the home/ Virtual
Most children with COVID will be able to stay home with their families. They will likely be cared for by the VirtualKIDS program. COVID specialist doctors and nurses from the hospital will regularly check in on your child with video conferencing, as well as providing allied health support to ensure their wellbeing needs are met.
The most effective way to keep your child safe is to ensure all adults around them, especially household members, are vaccinated. This will reduce your child’s chance of catching COVID and will mean you and other carers are less likely to be separated due to severe disease. If your child is over twelve years old, they are currently eligible for a priority COVID vaccination, you can speak to your GP to organise this. Vaccines may become available for younger children later in the year, your child’s specialists can give you individual advice on this.
Tips from a Reframing Disability mum:
We had fevers for five days, and it was over after seven days. Don’t panic when you get a positive diagnosis – NSW Health is very supportive and is there with you for every step. The Virtual Covid unit through Sydney Children’s Hospital Network was amazing! – Jess
Disclaimer: Reframing Disability provides an opportunity for families raising children with disability to learn from each other and share their experiences and resources. Reframing Disability does not provide personalised advice or services.
All content in this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.
Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Never disregard the advice of a medical professional, or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.
Gabi is a clinical nurse specialist in neonatal intensive care, within a major tertiary referral hospital. In this role, she cares for infants with a newly diagnosed disability or chronic illness and their family. Gabi is an international board-certified lactation consultant, specialising in lactation for families who have a child with disability.
Gabi has one school-aged daughter with disability, who requires frequent hospitalisation due to her multiple health conditions. Gabi is passionate about empowering families to navigate the healthcare system and get the best health outcomes.
 Say, D., Crawford, N., McNab, S., Wurzel, D., Steer, A., & Tosif, S. (2021). Post-acute COVID-19 outcomes in children with mild and asymptomatic disease. The Lancet: Child & Adolescent Health, 5(6). https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(21)00124-3
 Panigrahy, N., Policarpio, J., & Ramanathan, R. (2020). Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and SARS-CoV-2: A scoping review. Journal of Paediatric Rehabilitation Medicine, 13(3), 301-316.
 Dugas, M., Carnovale, V., Poirier, A., Mailhot, B., Skidmore, B., Faust, L., Costello, C., Thomson, D., Majnemer, A., Goldowitz, D., Miller, S. P., & LeBlanc, A. (2020). COVID-19 in children with brain-based developmental disabilities: A rapid review. MedRxiv, Advance Online Publication. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.05.01.20088021
 Parcha, V., Booker, K. S., Kalra, R., Kuranz, S., Berra, L., Arora, G., & Arora, P. (2021). A retrospective cohort study of 12,306 pediatric COVID-19 patients in the United States. Scientific Reports, 11(10231). https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-89553-1
 Turk, M. A., Landes, S. D., Formica, M. K., & Goss, K. D. (2020). Intellectual and developmental disability and COVID-19 case-fatality trends: TriNetX analysis. Disability and Health Journal, 13(3), 1-4.