Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have identified the alarming psychological effects of terrorism on children with autism and their parents following the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023.

The study, published in the journal Stress and Health, marks the first-ever investigation into the experiences of autistic children and their parents during wartime conditions. Dr. Judah Koller and his team analyzed the psychological consequences of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023.

Within 30 days of the attack, both autistic and non-autistic Israeli children exhibited clinically significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The symptoms were more pronounced in autistic children, highlighting their increased vulnerability.

Stress levels in children were found to be 2-4 times higher than before the war. Parents of autistic children reported significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress compared to parents of non-autistic children.

The reliance of autistic children on routine and predictability, which is disrupted during terrorist attacks and war, seemingly exacerbates their stress response. Rapid and unpredictable changes make it difficult for them to adapt.

"Raising children during wartime is a universal challenge, but our results show that children with autism suffer especially severely," said Dr. Koller. "Both the children and their families need targeted support from mental health services that take into account the unique characteristics of these patients."

The study utilized online surveys to gather data from a broad population quickly. While the researchers acknowledge that the data is still limited, they felt it was important to share even preliminary findings.

The researchers have now completed data collection for a cross-sectional study encompassing a broader audience of both autistic and non-autistic children and their parents.

"Our goal is to ensure public understanding of the ongoing war's impact on these vulnerable groups and to alert the need for additional support for them," Dr. Koller explained.