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Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Health Profiles and Service Utilization

Applied Heath Research Question submitted to H-CARDD by The Ontario Ministry of Child and Youth Services

Authors: Caitlin McGarry, Allison Chiu, Hilary Brown, Andrew S. Wilton, Jonathan Weiss, Yona Lunsky, Barry Isaacs

Background

Research shows that individuals with autism spectrum disorder have multiple health issues and difficulties accessing health services. However, very little research has examined these issues in young adults.

Purpose

The purpose of this report was to provide information on the demographic characteristics, health profile, and health service utilization of young adults with autism spectrum disorder in Ontario.

Methods

Using health and social services administrative data, three cohorts of young adults were generated, all between the ages of 18 and 24 years: 5,095 young adults with autism spectrum disorder, 10,487 young adults with other developmental disabilities (excluding autism spectrum disorder), and 393,263 young adults without developmental disabilities.

Results

  • Compared to the other two cohorts, young adults with autism spectrum disorder were more likely to be young and male. Their neighbourhoods tended to be similar to those of young adults without developmental disabilities in terms of income.
  • Most young adults with autism spectrum disorder had a moderate level of disease when considering their medical conditions. They were more likely than young adults without developmental disabilities but less likely than young adults with other developmental disabilities to have one or more medical conditions. However, they were far more likely to have mental health problems.
  • Young adults with autism spectrum disorder and those with other developmental disabilities were less likely to visit a general practitioner than young adults without developmental disabilities. However, young adults with autism spectrum disorder and those with other developmental disabilities had a higher percentage of visits to the same practitioner, indicating a better continuity of care compared to peers without developmental disabilities. Young adults with autism spectrum disorder were more likely to visit one or more specialists, in particular psychiatrists. They were less likely to visit the emergency department but more likely to have a psychiatric emergency department visit.

Conclusions and Implications

Overall, these findings suggest a high burden of need related to mental health problems in particular among young adults with autism spectrum disorder.