Managing Health Care for Autistic Adults

Adults with autism may have some struggles with their health care

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Adults with autism may take over managing their own health care. But some may struggle with getting everything they need. A recent study did an internet survey to ask adults with autism about their health care.

The researchers found that, compared to adults without autism, autistic adults were two to three times more likely to have unmet healthcare needs.

Doctors and patients can work together to make sure that adults with autism are getting the health care they need.

"Talk with your doctor as a friend."

The study was led by Christina Nicolaidis, MD, MPH, of the Departments of Medicine and Public Health & Preventive Medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore.

They asked adults to do an internet survey. In the survey, people rated healthcare experiences over the past year. They were asked to rate how well they communicated with their doctor, how often they used certain services and how satisfied they were with their care.

A total of 209 adults with autism and 228 adults without autism completed the survey. The researchers then compared the answers of the adults with autism to those without autism.

They found adults with autism who did the survey reported having more healthcare problems.

Adults with autism said they were less satisfied with the way their doctor communicated with them and were almost two times more likely to have unmet healthcare needs.

Unmet mental health needs were more than two times more likely in adults with autism. And adults with autism were almost three times more likely to report unmet needs about their prescription medications.

They were also about half as likely to have participated in preventative care, like tetanus shots and pap smears.

Adults with autism were also more than twice as likely to use the emergency room during the past year.

The authors concluded adults with autism may struggle when dealing with healthcare services.

However, the study is limited because it only surveyed people who were willing and able to use the internet. There were also more women than men who completed the survey, and most of the people had attended some college.

This may mean that the autistic adults in the study had a high level of function, so it may not represent all adults with autism.

dailyRx News spoke with Glen Elliott, MD, PhD, a child psychiatrist, about this study.

He said, “The authors have shown that, even among a convenience sample of self-identified adults with some form of pervasive developmental disorder who are sufficiently high functioning to make use of the Internet, having this disorder complicates access to and utilization of general healthcare services. “

“Clearly, this is not a representative sample of adults with autism, many of whom are not accessing the Internet.  It is unclear if those who are lower functioning and therefore more apt to have continued adult supervision and support are more or less apt to receive care than are the group who responded to this study.”

“Clinicians and families alike have recurrently raised concerns about the burgeoning population of adults with autism who do not have access to medical professionals familiar with this disorder.”

This study was published November 21 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Study was funded by the Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute, National Center for Research Resources and the National Institutes of Health. The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 18, 2012
Last Updated:
December 20, 2012