Kids With Autism May Use ER For Help

Autism raised the odds that kids would visit the emergency room for psychiatric services

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are not on a doctor’s schedule. When problems come up after hours, trips to the emergency room may be a solution.

Researchers looked at emergency room visits for kids with and without ASD. They found kids with ASD were nine times more likely to visit the emergency room for psychiatric treatment than kids without ASD.

Doctors and parents can work together to help kids with ASD avoid visits to the emergency room.

"Ask a psychiatrist about the best off-hours options."

Researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, led by Luther G. Kalb, MHS, at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, looked at the number of emergency room visits for kids with and without ASD. They looked at the records of over 3 million visits to the emergency room for kids between 3- and 17-years-old that were part of a nationwide database. A total of 13,191 of the visits were from kids with ASD. For both kids with and without ASD, they looked at the reason for the visit.

The researchers found 13 percent of visits for kids with autism were for psychiatric reasons - whereas, only 2 percent of visits for kids without ASD were for psychiatric reasons.

Kids with ASD were nine times more likely to visit the emergency room for psychiatric reasons than kids without ASD.

Kids with ASD visited the emergency room most often for disruptive behaviors, self-injury and aggressive behavior.

In a recent press release, Roma Vasa, MD, senior scientist on the project, said, “This finding of higher rates of emergency room visits among children with autism demonstrates many children with autism aren’t receiving sufficient outpatient mental health care to prevent and manage the type of crises that are driving these families to seek urgent help.”

This study is limited by the fact that it only looked back at patient records. They were not able to track children to really understand what factors were most influential in whether or not kids had ER visits or not.

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

He said, ““This study calls attention to the important fact that individuals with autism and related disorders are not immune to other problems, including physical illnesses and injuries that can lead to ER visits.”

“The communication problems and impaired judgment that are part of these disorders may make them especially vulnerable to such problems.  Parents and healthcare professionals need to be aware of the risk and respond promptly when concerns arise.”

This study was published on December 3 in Pediatric Emergency Care. The authors declare no conflicts of interest. The study was funded by ROAR for autism, which is a community fundraising program to raise money for autism research at the institute.

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Review Date: 
December 6, 2012
Last Updated:
December 11, 2012