Autistic Teens Rely on School for Help

Autism patients receive mental health services at school

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

(RxWiki News) High school kids who are struggling with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have plenty of challenges to face, including controlling their own behavior, development and learning difficulties, and impaired social skills.

But when they have to rely on school-based services for their mental health needs, they may not be getting all the help they need. It appears that half of autistic adolescents are getting assistance with the disorder at school.

"Teens with autism need a multiple support system, especially as they leave high school."

Sarah Narendorf and Paul Shattuck, with the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, led a study of 920 high-school-aged youth with ASD. They looked at the teen's need factors for dealing with the disorder, as well as their access to services including services available at school.

Overall, 46 percent of the youth had used a mental health service in the past year, and of those 49 percent received that service at school. African-American teens and those from lower-income families were more likely to receive school-based services.

Narendorf says that while autistic youth are often involved in a multiple service system that could include doctors, hospitals and specialty clinics along with schools, the minority and low-income youth who primarily receive school-based services are at high risk of not having any help once they leave school. This puts a strain on the kids and their families as well as schools, who play a key role with this vulnerable population and need to help ensure continuity of care as their autistic students leave school.

This need was the focus of previous research done by Shattuck and Narendorf, which looked at autistic teens as they graduated high school and lost entitlement to those services. In the first study of its kind, the researchers found that in the first few years after high school, 39 percent of young adults with ASD received no mental health, medical diagnostics, speech therapy or case management services. The odds of not receiving any services were more than three times higher for African-Americans and five times higher for those with incomes of $25,000 or less.

“Youths with ASDs are especially vulnerable during this period because of their challenges with communication and social interaction, greater reliance on others for aid and high rates of health and mental health problems," Shattuck stated. He added that there has been no effort of any magnitude to plan for continuity of services as these children age into adulthood.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 29, 2011
Last Updated:
August 31, 2011