Prevalence and Correlates of Autism in a State Psychiatric Hospital

24 Aug

I’ve said it before: I really like David Mandell’s work. He and his team take on some very important and tough questions. I am very concerned about the lack of information on autistic adults. We don’t know an accurate prevalence. Without study ongoing into the needs of autistic adults, those of us with autistic children will face a

That’s why I like studies like this one: Prevalence and Correlates of Autism in a State Psychiatric Hospital.

This study estimated the ASD prevalence in a psychiatric hospital and evaluated the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) combined with other information for differential diagnosis. Chart review, SRS and clinical interviews were collected for 141 patients at one hospital. Diagnosis was determined at case conference. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves were used to evaluate the SRS as a screening instrument. Chi-squared Automatic Interaction Detector (CHAID) analysis estimated the role of other variables, in combination with the SRS, in separating cases and non-cases. Ten percent of the sample had ASD. More than other patients, their onset was prior to 12 years of age, they had gait problems and intellectual disability, and were less likely to have a history of criminal involvement or substance abuse. Sensitivity (0.86) and specificity (0.60) of the SRS were maximized at a score of 84. Adding age of onset <12 years and cigarette use among those with SRS 80 increased specificity to 0.90 but dropped sensitivity to 0.79. Undiagnosed ASD may be common in psychiatric hospitals. The SRS, combined with other information, may discriminate well between ASD and other disorders.

For reference:

Sensitivity relates to the test’s ability to identify positive results.
Specificity relates to the ability of the test to identify negative results.

Identifying autistic adults is not easy. Prevalence studies are far more difficult than when working with students. But Prof. Mandell is out there, trying to find autistic adults. In this case, he found that in a given psychiatric hospital, about 10% of the patients were autistic. He is calibrating instruments (the SRS together with correlates like smoking, age-of-onset, ID) to provide for a fairly direct screening tool.

This is one type of work that needs to be done. I’m glad that Prof. Mandell’s group is out there doing it, but I hope that more groups pick this up in the future.

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