For some children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the core symptoms of impaired communication, social skills and repetitive behaviors are just the beginning of the challenges that they face. An ASD diagnosis also brings an increased likelihood of receiving a secondary mental health diagnosis, such as depression, anxiety and psychotic disorders, many of which manifest in severe behaviors that can quickly escalate to a crisis situation for a child and their family.
Researchers at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute recently conductedthe first study to compare mental health-related emergency department visits between children with and without ASD. They found that mental health-related emergency visits are nine times more likely if the child has an ASD diagnosis compared to typically developing peers. The study found that externalizing symptoms, such as aggression, self-injury or impulsivity, were the leading cause of emergency room visits among children with ASD.
Dr. Roma Vasa, senior study author and a child psychiatrist in Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism & Related Disorders, encourages parents to plan ahead for a mental health crisis, even though the circumstances may be difficult to predict. She offers the following advice: