Young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Ontario are more likely to have an associated psychiatric diagnosis, compared to peers with other forms of developmental disability (DD) and their counterparts without developmental disability, according to a new study from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and York University.
ASD is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterized, in varying degrees, by social and communication difficulties, and restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 94 Canadians have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, though recent studies suggest even higher rates are likely.
The study published today in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders is the first Canadian study to compare health profiles and health service use of young adults with ASD to both young adults with other forms of DD and to those with no DD.
The study found 51 per cent of Ontario young adults (18-24 years of age) with ASD had at least one psychiatric diagnosis, compared to 38 per cent of young adults with other developmental disabilities, and to 20 per cent of the general population.
A psychiatric diagnosis can include attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder/conduct disorder, anxiety, depression or other serious mental health disorder.
“Access to good mental health care and prevention of mental health issues is a challenge for all young people with developmental disabilities as they transition into adult services but even more so for those with ASD. Improving care and prevention in this area should be prioritized for all of these young adults, but particularly for those with ASD,” says Yona Lunsky, director of the Health Care Access Research and Developmental Disabilities (H-CARDD) research program, author of the study and adjunct scientist at ICES.
The authors say access to timely mental health care is particularly important because waiting to receive treatment for psychiatric problems leads to greater levels of difficulty, more personal and social cost, and ultimately a greater dependency on more specialized and costly kinds of services, like hospitalization.
“It’s not surprising that young adults with ASD are more likely to use certain types of health care, specifically mental health care, than are their peers. This is a stage with considerable change − all of the routines and structures they are used to, as well as their relationships or supports, can change, which is incredibly stressful. Even though emergency rooms visits, in general, are most likely to occur in young adults with other types of developmental disabilities, those with ASD are more likely to go for psychiatric reasons, and to visit psychiatrists,” says Dr. Jonathan Weiss, lead author of the study, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at York University, and Canadian chair in ASD treatment and care research.
The researchers add that their study illustrates a need for specific training for health care professionals to ensure that the mental health needs of this vulnerable population can be met early to improve outcomes.
This study is part of the Health Care Access Research in Developmental Disabilities (H-CARDD) Program.
“Health concerns and health service utilization in a population cohort of young adults with autism spectrum disorder,” was published today in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Author block: Weiss J, Isaacs B, Diepstra H, Wilton D, Brown H, McGarry C, Lunsky Y.
The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of health care issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting health care needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario
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