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ER Use for Psychiatric Problems High in ASD

By Mark N. Ziats on December 12, 2012


Background: Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have a high incidence of other psychiatric problems like anxiety, mood disorders, or psychosis.  These children often have difficulty accessing proper psychiatric care in the community, and as a result may utilize hospital Emergency Rooms (ER) for their psychiatric complaints.  However, the frequency and nature of psychiatric ER visits among children with ASD is unknown.


What’s new: A new study published in the journal Pediatric Emergency Care examined the prevalence and characteristics of psychiatry-related visits among children with ASD using data obtained from a national registry of ER visits.  The authors discovered that psychiatry-related ER visits from children with ASD were nine times more frequent than visits from children without ASD.  These visits were most commonly for externalizing and psychotic disorders.  In contrast, children with ASD were less likely to present to ERs with mood and anxiety disorders than other children were.  Additionally, the authors found that ER use for psychiatric problems was more common among children with ASD who had private health insurance, as compared to children with ASD using public assistance programs.


Why it’s important: This study suggests that better community psychiatric care is needed for children with ASD.  Furthermore, increased education of Emergency Room staff on autisms’ clinical manifestations may improve the outcomes of these visits.  Lastly, a further assessment of the influence of insurance benefits on psychiatric care usage among children with ASD is important to develop more targeted outpatient psychiatric care.

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