There’s a lot of talk about comorbid conditions and autism. Sadly that conversation is often used to suggest that vaccines cause autism. As in, “look at how much GI disease there is in autism. Must be caused by vaccines!”
And because of that discussion, probably most of the people drawn to read this article will be because I highlighted vaccines in the title. So let’s get that out of the way first. A group of researchers looked at what leads to hospitalization of autistic kids. In specific, they looked at “Ambulatory care sensitive conditions” which are defined as: (ACSCs) are conditions for which appropriate outpatient care prevents or reduces the need for hospitalization. The study was presented at IMFAR and is titled Ambulatory Care Sensitive Hospitalizations Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
What did they find for vaccine preventable diseases? Autistic kids are 3 times more likely to be hospitalized for vaccine preventable diseases than are kids with no chronic conditions.
Three times more often.
For diseases that can be easily prevented with vaccines.
But sadly some of the most vocal opponents to vaccines are autism parents. All due to the misinformation that claims that autism is caused by vaccines. And the result is that autistic kids suffer from preventable diseases.
Not only do these parents contribute to the misinformation campaign against vaccines, they also ignore the fact that other conditions are even more common among autistics than, say, GI disease. Not to downplay GI disease. Not at all. From this study, hospitalization from constipation occurred in 1.2% of autistic kids. That’s over 4 times higher than for kids without chronic conditions and that’s a big deal. But what fraction of autistic kids hospitalized for mental health conditions? 23.5%. That’s over 8 times more often than kids without chronic conditions. And nearly 10 times more common than hospitalization from constipation and gastroenteritis combined.
14.5% of autistic kids were hospitalized for epilepsy. Nearly 10 times the value for the general population.
But as a community, autism parents are not talking about mental health conditions and epilepsy much. The most vocal among us have let themselves focus on the (now dead) vaccine debate. And it is hurting us as a community. It is hurting the people we are supposedly working to serve: autistics.
To bring this back from a critique of the harm that vocal minority of the parents cause–
Yes, autistics are more likely to be hospitalized than are the general population. And big issues for us include mental health and epilepsy.
Hospitalization–any hospitalization–is a big deal. Especially in the autistic population. Not too long ago we saw that autistics were more likely to be restrained in the ER. I remember being left overnight in the hospital when I was a kid. No way I could do that with my autistic kid, and I don’t see being left alone as a viable option for many of the autistics (both kids and adults) I know. How do we support autistics (and other disabled people) when hospitalized? From my experiences, I can say “not well”.
And that’s something I hope we can change. I hope enough people read past the vaccine part of this article and take the time to really think about where we are applying our advocacy in the autism communities.
Here’s the table from a paper
Ambulatory Care Sensitive Hospitalizations Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
P. S. Carbone1, P. Young1, G. Stoddard1, J. Wilkes1 and L. Trasande2, (1)University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, (2)NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY
Background: “Ambulatory care sensitive conditions” (ACSCs) are conditions for which appropriate outpatient care prevents or reduces the need for hospitalization. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be at risk for hospitalization for ACSCs because of difficulty accessing high quality primary care.
Objectives: The purpose of this study is to describe the prevalence and health care utilization of children with ASD who are hospitalized for ACSCs and compare them with the prevalence and health care utilization for the same conditions in hospitalized children without ASD.
Methods: Using the 2009 Kids Inpatient Database, hospitalizations for an ACSC were examined within three cohorts of children aged 3-20 years: children with ASD, children with chronic conditions without ASD (CC), and children with no chronic conditions (no-CC). In order to compare the prevalence of each ACSC for the three cohorts we separately analyzed discharges with a primary diagnosis ICD-9-CM code that corresponded to each of ACSCs listed in the table. In order to compare inpatient health care utilization for the three cohorts we analyzed total charges (TC) and length of stay (LOS), for each ACSC.
Results: Within the 24,174 in the ASD cohort, we found that the proportion of hospitalizations for an ACSC was 55.9%, compared with 28.2% in the CC cohort and 22.9% in the no-CC cohort (p<0.001). The most prevalent ACSCs among children with ASD were mental health conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression, mood disorder) (23.5%) and epilepsy (14.7%). Children with ASD were more likely to be hospitalized for a mental health condition, epilepsy, constipation, dehydration, underweight and a dental condition compared with the other cohorts (Table). After adjusting for covariates (age, gender, race, median household income, primary payor, hospital variables [size, location region, teaching status, type] and point of origin of admission), we found that children with ASD were nearly ten times more likely to be hospitalized for a mental health condition (OR: 9.72; 95% CI: 8.39-11.26; p <0.001), nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized for epilepsy (OR: 6.58; 95% CI: 5.95-7.29; p <0.001) and more likely to be hospitalized for constipation, pneumonia, dehydration, vaccine preventable diseases, underweight and nutritional deficiencies, compared with the no-CC cohort. Adjusting for the same covariates we found that children with ASD were twice as likely to be hospitalized for mental health conditions (OR: 2.19; 95% CI: 1.99-2.41; p <0.001), five times more likely to be hospitalized for epilepsy (OR: 4.99; 95% CI: 4.60-5.41; p <0.001), and were significantly more likely to be hospitalized for constipation, dehydration, and underweight compared with the CC cohort. The ASD cohort had higher TC and longer LOS for mental health conditions compared with the other two cohorts.
Conclusions: Outpatient efforts to prevent hospitalizations in children with ASD should focus on mental health care needs and seizure management. Other strategies should include actively managing constipation and dehydration, monitoring nutritional status, and immunizing against vaccine preventable conditions. Understanding the reasons for the higher healthcare utilization among children with ASD hospitalized for mental health conditions should be the subject of further research.
By Matt Carey