HomeHealthStudies show that autism sufferers have lower health and less access to...

Studies show that autism sufferers have lower health and less access to healthcare

According to new research by the University of Cambridge, autistic people are more likely than others to suffer from chronic mental or physical health problems. Their healthcare quality is lower than that of others.
These findings were published in Molecular Autism and have significant implications for healthcare and support for autistic people.
Although many studies show that autistic individuals are more likely to die young than the rest, there is not much research about the health and care of adults with autism. Some studies have suggested that autistic persons may be more difficult to access healthcare. However, only a few small studies have compared autistic people’s healthcare experiences with others.
In what is the most comprehensive study of this topic, the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge (ARC), used an anonymous self-report survey that compared the experiences and feelings of 1,285 autistic adults to 1,364 nonautistic individuals. The participants were aged between 16 and 96 years. They came from 79 different countries. 54% of the participants came from the UK. The survey evaluated the rates of mental health and physical ailments, as well as the quality and quantity of healthcare experiences.
The survey found that autistic patients reported poorer quality healthcare than the rest of us for 50 of 51 items. The majority of autistic people could not describe their symptoms, describe their pain, or explain their symptoms to their healthcare professionals. People with autism were less likely to understand what to expect from their healthcare provider after they have been diagnosed.

Autistic people are seven times more likely than others to say that their senses overwhelm them and they have difficulty focusing on conversations between healthcare professionals. They were also three times more likely than others to report that they often leave the office of their healthcare provider feeling like they didn’t get any help. Four times as likely were autistic people to report feeling like they had a meltdown or shut down due to a common healthcare scenario, such as scheduling an appointment with a healthcare professional.
The team created an overall score for ‘health inequality’. They also used machine learning and new data analysis methods. The results showed stark differences in healthcare experiences: models could predict whether a participant was autistic with 72% accuracy using only their ‘health inequality score. This study also revealed alarmingly high rates for chronic mental and physical health conditions such as arthritis, anxiety, ADHD and bipolar disorder.
Dr Elizabeth Weir (a postdoctoral researcher at the ARC, Cambridge) said that this study should be a wake-up call to healthcare professionals. It shows that autistic patients have high rates of chronic diseases and difficulty accessing healthcare. The current healthcare system is failing to address the most basic needs of autistic individuals.
Dr Carrie Allison (Director of Strategy at ARC) and another member added, “Healthcare systems need to adapt to make appropriate adjustments to neurodiverse and autistic patients in order to ensure they have equal access and high-quality healthcare.”
Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen is Director of the ARC. He was also a member the team. More research is needed to determine the long-term outcomes of autistic individuals and how they can improve their healthcare and health. It is important for clinical service providers to first ask autistic individuals what they require and then respond accordingly.


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