NCSA Position Statement

Access to Appropriate and Timely Health Care and Crisis Care

Individuals with severe autism have high rates of psychiatric and behavioral challenges, but limited access to effective crisis services, emergency room care, adequate medical screening and evidence-based psychiatric hospital units. As a result, they are frequently denied appropriate and critical medical care. Individuals may languish, untreated or deteriorating, in emergency rooms. In some cases, they are turned away by hospitals. Even when admitted, care is often inadequate. Thus, thorough screenings for hidden medical conditions – such as sleep disturbances, seizures, constipation, dental problems, and ear infections – are frequently overlooked. Such screenings are particularly important for nonverbal and minimally verbal individuals who may have difficulty communicating their pain or distress.

When it comes to mental health, individuals with autism are psychiatrically hospitalized much more frequently than non-ASD individuals. Greater autism severity increases the risk of hospitalization, yet psychiatric emergency rooms and hospital units are woefully unprepared for individuals with severe autism. 

The NCSA supports measures to alleviate the lack of access to critical, medically necessary treatment for people with severe autism by:

  • Increasing the availability of effective and appropriate crisis services, intensive behavioral treatment programs in the outpatient setting and residential treatment facilities that utilize evidence-based practices

  • Disabusing clinicians of the common assumption that all symptoms are simply “part of the autism”; this includes familiarizing them with co-morbid conditions that can present as behavioral problems, including psychiatric disorders, catatonia, and gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as those conditions listed above

  • Equipping emergency room personnel with knowledge and tools for treating individuals with severe autism

  • Expanding specialized in-patient psychiatry units for children and adults staffed by multi-disciplinary teams that conduct expert assessments and offer comprehensive evidence-based treatment plans 

Adopted by NCSA Board of Directors December 10, 2018

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