Autism Support Services Underused by Young Adults, Survey Finds

Filed under: Medical Conditions

Autism Support Services Underused by Young Adults, Survey Finds

There appears to be a big drop off in the use of services for young adults with autism after they graduate from high school. Credit: John Dowland, Getty Images

If your child has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder, you're likely well aware of the range of medical, mental health and case management services available to help meet your family's needs.

However, the use of these autism support services by young adults with spectrum disorders appears to decline after high school, according to a report published today in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The number of young adults in the U.S. with an autism spectrum disorder is rapidly increasing as ever-larger groups of children diagnosed with the condition are now getting older and passing through adolescence, according to background information cited by the authors.

The authors note this trend is especially visible in special education enrollment figures, where the number of students aged 12 to 17 years classified in the autism eligibility category increased dramatically from 15,480 in 1998 to 99,893 in 2007.

Though it is unclear whether this surge in numbers reflects an actual increase in children afflicted with autism spectrum disorder or an improvement in diagnostic practices, the authors say the distinction need not be addressed in the current study.

"Regardless of the root cause, the facts remain that treated prevalence is increasing and that the implications of this trend for service systems are poorly understood," the authors write.

The data was taken from a nationwide telephone survey of parents and guardians of young adults, aged 19 to 23 years, who have an autism spectrum disorder; the survey was conducted from April 2007 to February 2008.

The report revealed the rates of service use ranged from 9.1 percent for speech therapy to 41.9 percent for case management. Other services utilized by survey participants included medical services (23.5 percent) and mental health services (35 percent). Strikingly, over 39 percent of youths in the survey had not received any of these surveys.

The rates reported for the young adults included in the survey are lower than figures gathered six years earlier, when all the patients polled were still in high school. At that time, 46.2 percent received mental health services, 46.9 percent received medical services, 74.6 percent were getting speech therapy and 63.6 percent reported having a case manager.

The authors also found that African American youths were three times less likely than white youth to receive any of the services in question, and families with incomes of $25,000 or less were nearly six times less likely to receive any services when compared with those making $75,000 or more.

In addition, those making $25,000 or less were nearly six times less likely to use case management services, compared to those with incomes of $75,000 or greater.

"Rates of service disengagement are high after exiting high school. Disparities by race and socioeconomic status indicate a need for targeted outreach and services," the authors conclude. "This study represents an important step in the process of building a foundation of evidence that can help improve services and foster independence and health among youths with autism spectrum disorders."

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