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Although mental and physical health problems are far more common among adolescents with autism spectrum disorder, a recent study showed that they’re about half as likely as their peers without autism to be given guidance on transitioning from pediatric to adult health care.
The data are from a follow-up study of adolescents who participated in the Study to Explore Early Development when they were aged 2 to 5 years. About a decade later, 21% of the youths with autism had physical difficulties such as problems using their hands or hearing loss compared with less than 2% of the control group. Nearly two-thirds of the young people with autism also had a mental health or other condition such as Tourette syndrome compared with about one-third of the control group. The most common mental health conditions among adolescents with autism were attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety.
About 42% of the youths with autism received mental health services compared with 22% of their peers. However, 11% of those with autism still had unmet health needs, including dental or vision care, compared with 3% of the control group.
Few adolescents in either group received guidance recommended by federal health agencies to help them transition to adult care. Three transition planning components evaluated in the study were the physician’s active engagement in the adolescent’s care, 1-on-1 time with the physician without a parent present, and the parent’s knowledge of how the child will be insured as an adult.
The study showed that about 8% of adolescents with autism and 14% of their peers received assistance in all 3 transition planning recommendations. But 31% of those with autism compared with 57% of their peers received transition planning that included at least 2 components. The disparity increased as planning assistance decreased: 69% of youths with autism compared with 43% of their peers had no transition planning or planning that included only 1 component.
Kuehn BM. Adolescents With Autism Face Multiple Unmet Health Needs. JAMA. 2021;325(22):2244. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.7963
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