Researchers found that adults with autism, approximately 1% of the U.S. population, report significantly worse health care experiences than their non-autistic counterparts.
“Like other adults, adults on the autism spectrum need to use health care services to prevent and treat illness,” said Christina Nicolaidis, MD, MPH, of Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).
“As a primary care provider, I know that our health care system is not always set up to offer high-quality care to adults on the spectrum; however, I was saddened to see how large the disparities were. We really need to find better ways to serve them.”
The study was conducted by the Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE), a partnership in which academic investigators, autistic adults and other community members work together.
Healthcare challenges faced by autistic adults
Autistic adults reported greater unmet health care needs, more frequent use of emergency services, and lower rates of preventive services. They also reported low satisfaction with communication and comfort level navigating the medical system.
“While I am discouraged by the findings, I am also encouraged by the direct involvement of the autistic community in all parts of this project,” said Dora Raymaker, AASPIRE’s community co-director. “In order to ensure research that is truly useful to autistic adults, it is critical to involve us directly in the process.”
New criteria in DSM-V may make things even more difficult
The newly released Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) brings together Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified into one category: Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is concern over the change since it will make it more difficult for people to meet new criteria for ASD.
“The existence of health care disparities in our sample, most of whom had diagnoses of Asperger’s and/or high educational attainment, highlights the possible negative consequences of stricter criteria,” explained Nicolaidis. “Not having a diagnosis may deprive patients and their providers of insights, strategies, and accommodations to improve health care experiences.”
Source: MedicalNewsToday, AASPIRE