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Adults with autism may struggle with healthcare


Adults with autism report significantly worse healthcare experiences than others, according to a study.

“Like other adults, adults on the autism spectrum need to use healthcare services to prevent and treat illness,” Christina Nicolaidis, MD, MPH, the study’s principal investigator and an associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Sciences University, said in a news release.

“As a primary care provider, I know that our healthcare system is not always set up to offer high-quality care to adults on the spectrum. However, I was saddened to see how large the disparities were. We really need to find better ways to serve them.”

The study, published in the November issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, was conducted by the Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE), an academic-community partnership with collaboration by academic investigators, autistic adults and other community members.

The researchers surveyed 209 autistic adults and 228 non-autistic adults through a secure registration system for online studies. Autistic adults reported greater unmet healthcare needs, higher use of the ED and lower rates of preventive services such as Pap smears. They also reported poorer satisfaction with provider communication and lower comfort in navigating the healthcare system and managing their health.

The researchers took note of possible implications related to changes in the newly released Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which combined autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder and “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified” into one new category of autism spectrum disorder. Some studies have indicated the potential for a significant reduction in the number of people who will meet the new criteria, especially among those with Asperger’s disorder or those without intellectual disabilities.

“The existence of healthcare disparities in our sample, most of whom had diagnoses of Asperger’s and/or high educational attainment, highlights the possible negative consequences of stricter criteria,” Nicolaidis said. “Not having a diagnosis may deprive patients and their providers of insights, strategies and accommodations to improve healthcare experiences.”

The study abstract is available at


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