This study aimed to identify contextual factors associated with life satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic for adolescents with mental, emotional, behavioral, and developmental (MEBD) disabilities.
Data were collected from a sample of 1084 adolescents aged 11-21 years from April 2020 to August 2021. This cross-sectional study used a sequential machine learning workflow, consisting of random forest regression and evolutionary tree regression, to identify subgroups of adolescents in the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) consortium who demonstrated enhanced vulnerability to lower life satisfaction as described by intersecting risk factors, protective factors, and MEBD disabilities.
Adolescents with a history of depression, anxiety, autism, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder were particularly susceptible to decreased life satisfaction in response to unique combinations of stressors experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. These stressors included decreased social connectedness, decreased family engagement, stress related to medical care access, pandemic-related traumatic stress, and single-caregiver households.
Findings from this study highlight the importance of interventions aimed specifically at increasing adolescent social connectedness, family engagement, and access to medical support for adolescents with MEBD disabilities, particularly in the face of stressors, such as a global pandemic.
Through a machine learning process, we identified contextualized risks associated with life satisfaction among adolescents with neurodevelopmental disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in large-scale social disruptions for children and families. Such disruptions were associated with worse mental health outcomes in the general pediatric population, but few studies have examined specific subgroups who may be at heightened risk. We endeavored to close that gap in knowledge. This study highlights the importance of social connectedness, family engagement, and access to medical support as contributing factors to life satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic for adolescents with neurodevelopmental disabilities.