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Protecting Children with Special Needs or Chronic Conditions During COVID-19

Updated May 29, 2020

Parents of children with special needs or chronic medical conditions may be wondering how best to care for their child during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Children are largely unaffected, even those with underlying chronic conditions. Simple precautions that apply to all families should be followed to best protect children with chronic conditions.

  • Social distancing: Social distancing is one of the most effective ways to protect your child and family from exposure to COVID-19. This means avoiding public spaces, staying home as much as possible and staying at least 6 feet away from non-family members.
  • Mask wearing: If you cannot avoid public spaces, wear a mask to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. Masks should not be put on babies and children under the age of 2 because of the danger of suffocation and they should not be used if certain underlying medical conditions prevent the mask from being worn safely.
  • Handwashing: Handwashing for 20 seconds with soap and water is effective in removing viruses from hands. Remind your child to avoid touching their face and to avoid direct contact with other people. Use hand sanitizers that are at least 60% alcohol when handwashing is not possible.
  • Taking precautions: Taking precautions within your home is especially critical if other members of the household must leave the house for work or other essential tasks. Cleaning frequently touched surfaces, washing dishes and laundry quickly, and keeping anyone who shows symptoms of illness in a separate room of the home will also help your child stay as healthy as possible.
  • Follow guidelines: Make sure you follow the guidelines from your local health department and other officials who can communicate specifics for the community where you live.

Education, Nutrition and Seeking Medical Care

Many schools are closed right now to slow the spread of infection. Contact your child’s teacher or building administrator with questions about how your school district is providing educational resources, nutrition services and special education accommodations during this unusual time.

The U.S. Department of Education has developed a fact sheet about services for children with disabilities during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many community organizations, including Children's Mercy, are offering nutritional services for children.

Find information on food resources in the Kansas City area. 

To learn the symptoms of COVID-19, how to treat them and when you should seek medical care for your child, please click the button below.

View the latest symptoms of COVID-19

COVID-19, Special Needs and Chronic Conditions

If your child is already seen at Children's Mercy, you will find helpful information on our page for parents of patients at Children's Mercy.

Parents of patients at Children's Mercy

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the daily routine of many children. Adjusting to a new routine can be particularly stressful for children with autism.

Here is a resource to help autistic children cope with change during the COVID-19 outbreak:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Helping Kids With Autism Cope

While most children with Down syndrome are not immunocompromised, they can have immune system disturbances that make them more susceptible to infections. If your child has had difficulty handling past infections, this is probably your best indicator they may be more vulnerable to complications if they contract COVID-19.

Your child with Down syndrome may also have chronic health conditions that put them in a higher risk group if exposed to the COVID-19 virus. These conditions can include leukemia, other cancers, untreated heart conditions, chronic or untreated respiratory diseases and poorly-controlled diabetes.

The CDC provides recommendations on what to do if you have a child in a higher-risk group.


Allergy symptoms can include runny nose, itchy nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, watery eyes and nasal congestion. While some symptoms are similar to COVID-19, one way to distinguish is the presence of fever – which is not associated with allergies.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has put together a helpful chart that breakdowns the various symptoms of COVID-19, the common cold, the flu and allergies. View the symptom chart here.

Allergy symptoms can be treated with antihistamines, through mouth or through the nose, nasal steroids, and antihistamines for the eyes. Limit exposure outdoors on high pollen count days; which you can track via the news or on Keep windows and doors shut in the home and while riding in the car.

There have been reports of concerns of steroid use during COVID-19. These reports deal with systemic steroids – given through a vein or by mouth – and do not apply to inhaled steroids. It’s important to continue use of inhaled steroids daily to control asthma.


One symptom of COVID-19 is shortness of breath. If you have asthma, you may have shortness of breath – but with some wheezing because of an asthma exacerbation. You can always try albuterol to see if that helps alleviate shortness of breath.

Given COVID-19, there have been some concerns with the use of nebulizers. Using a nebulizer may increase the droplet spread in the air about 1-2 feet, for up to 1-2 hours after use. For individuals concerned that they may have COVID-19, try to use an albuterol with a spacer. If this is not an option, utilize the nebulizer somewhere where the air doesn’t recirculate in the home.

Watch this video, featuring Allergy, Asthma and Immunology physician Dr. Bridgette Jones and Pulmonology physician Jade Tam-Williams, to learn more about how to distinguish symptoms.


The health and well-being of children with gastrointestinal, liver or nutritional conditions is important during COVID-19. Having a gastrointestinal or liver condition does not increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 in children. While the impact of COVID-19 on children with these conditions is mild in the majority of cases your providers in the GI section at Children’s Mercy are staying abreast of the most current research involving COVID-19 and your child’s condition and medications. It is important to continue health care consults with your pediatrician or GI specialist to discuss the management and treatment of your child or any flare-ups. You should immediately seek medical help if your child is vomiting blood or passing blood in their stool or has continuous or sudden severe abdominal pain, severe or unexplained vomiting or diarrhea, jaundice, unintended weight loss, very dark or black tarry stool, dark urine and/or pale stools, extreme tiredness or drowsiness, abdominal swelling or bloating, swallowing difficulties or pain, or fever or flu-like symptoms.

Gut, Liver and Nutritional Conditions in Children During COVID-19: Advice for Parents