Teens with a diagnosis of autism are four times as likely to present at an Emergency Room, than their neurotypical counterparts.
Penn State College of Medicine conducted a study, between 2005 and 2013 into the insurance claims for healthcare, of individuals aged between 12 and 21 years of age.
What they found was that only 3% of adolescents and young adults who were either not considered autistic or at least, had not been diagnosed as being within the autistic spectrum, visited an Emergency Room in that period.
However, when looking at the percentages for teenagers and young people with autism, that number had jumped from the same rate as their neurotypical peers of 3% in 2005, to 16% in 2013.
It was found that there had not been an increase in the rates of diagnoses in the study period. To make sure that the individuals documented in the study had not been wrongly diagnosed, all the participants in the study had received at least two diagnoses of autism.
Additionally, the reasons for a visit to the Emergency Room increasingly incorporated ones of behavioral issues or a mental health crisis.
With the onset of adolescence, self harming behaviors and other mental health issues can present themselves in all teens. However, it is specifically the young people with an autistic spectrum diagnosis who were presenting the most at the Emergency Room with these issues.
In fact, at the end of the time of the study period, in 2013 22% of these visits to the Emergency Room were for some aspect of mental health and other behavioral concerns.
At the beginning of the study, these had only accounted for 12% of all admissions.
Other common reasons for admissions were gastro intestinal problems, including nausea, pain etc and then also conditions such as epilepsy.
Then there were other issues such as ear infections, which presented as a frequent reason for a visit to the Emergency Room.
Other findings of the study revealed that it was the teens on the older end of the study group, who accounted for the higher number of visits to the Emergency Room.
The 18-21 age group of autistic young persons accounted for the highest percentage of visits – at 30%, whilst the more junior end 12-14 made up only 10%.
The study also found that girls and young women with autism were disproportionately likely visit the Emergency Room, than were males.
Teens living in a rural area were also more likely to require the Emergency Room than those living in more urban places.
The study’s authors have concluded that this spike in admissions and visits to the Emergency Room have a strong correlation with the absence of services, for this age group as they enter adolescence.
Although the condition itself may lead to increased problems with some mental health issues in later adolescence, this alone does not explain the study’s findings.
In many cases, the reasons for the admission to emergency care should have been able to be dealt with by a family doctor.
These figures seem to suggest that there is an issue with adolescents with autism being able to seek appropriate care, from their primary care team.