FRIDAY, Dec. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Children with autism are nine
times more likely than other children to be taken to the emergency
department for mental health problems, according to a new
The issues include aggression; mood, anxiety and psychotic
disorders; attempted suicide; and self-injury.
The study also found that families with private insurance are 58
percent more likely to take children with autism to the emergency
department for urgent mental health care, compared to families
covered by state medical-assistance programs.
Researchers analyzed data on nearly 4 million emergency
department visits made by U.S. children aged 3 to 17 in 2008. Of
those visits, more than 13,000 involved children with an autism
spectrum disorder. Thirteen percent of the visits by kids with
autism were psychiatric in nature, compared to 2 percent of all
visits made by their peers.
"This finding of higher rates of emergency room visits among children with autism demonstrates that 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," senior study author Dr. Roma Vasa, a child psychiatrist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders, said in an institute news release.
"These findings should highlight the urgent need for better comprehensive outpatient mental health care and insurance coverage for children with autism, along with greater education and training for emergency medical staff," Vasa added.
The reason families with private insurance are more likely to
take children with autism to the emergency department for urgent
mental health care is likely "because private insurance plans often
exclude autism from behavioral health coverage, have few in-network
providers or place restrictive limits on the amount of mental
health expenses that they will reimburse," study first author
Luther Kalb, a research scientist in the Center for Autism and
Related Disorders, said in the news release.
The study was published recently in the journal
Pediatric Emergency Care.
About one in 88 children in the United States has an autism
diagnosis, and the use of the emergency department to treat mental
health problems in these children is likely to increase unless
changes occur, the researchers said.
They noted that the often chaotic nature of emergency
departments can worsen mental health issues in children with
"Children with autism, especially those with co-occurring psychotic disorders or severe behaviors, need to have an emergency crisis plan in place," Kalb said. "Everyone involved in the life of a child with autism, from parents to medical professionals to school educators, needs to have routine discussions about what to do in the case of an escalating situation."
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
has more about