Study About Autism and ER Visits Reveals Much

Emergency RoomA recent study found that children who have an autism spectrum disorder are nine times more likely to visit an emergency room for a psychiatric reason than are children who do not have autism. This result is being interpreted to mean that there isn’t sufficient outpatient mental health care for families that need it.

A study was recently published in the journal Pediatric Emergency Care. Researchers analyzed data from over 3.9 million emergency room visits in the United States. Specifically, they focused on ER visits by children who were between 3 and 17 years old. The researchers used the 2008 National Emergency Department Sample.

Here is what the researchers found:

* There were more than 3.9 million visits to emergency rooms by kids who were between the ages of 3 and 17 in 2008.

* A total of 13,191 visits to the emergency room were from children who had an autism spectrum disorder.

* 13% of the emergency room visits by children with autism were psychiatric in nature

* 2% of all visits to the emergency room by children who did not have autism were of a psychiatric nature.

* Families who had a child who had autism, and who had private medical insurance, were 58% more likely to visit the ER for mental health related reasons than were families who had a child with autism and who used state medical assistance programs.

* Severe behaviors that were tied to aggression were the leading cause of emergency room visits for children who had autism.

* Children with autism were taken to the emergency room for aggression. They were also visiting the ER for mood, anxiety, and psychotic disorders. There were also visits made for attempted suicide and/or self injury.

What did the researchers learn from the data they gathered? Dr. Roma Vasa is a child psychiatrist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders. Dr. Roma was a senior study author. In a news release from the Institute, Dr. Roma said:

“The 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.”

Why are children who are covered by private insurance, and who have autism, more likely to be taken to the ER for psychiatric issues than kids who have autism and who have public insurance? Luther Kalb, MHS, a first study author and a research scientist in Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders had this to say:

“We think this is 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.”

Image by Taber Andrew Bain on Flickr