TORONTO, July 18, 2017 - A study by the Centre
for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) of 284 teens and adults with autism
has found that almost one in four (22.2 per cent) had been to an
emergency department at least once in the past year.
"Practically every week I hear about someone on the spectrum who is in
crisis and gets involved with emergency services," says lead author Dr. Yona Lunsky, Clinician-Scientist in Adult
Neurodevelopment Services and Director of the Health Care Access
Research and Developmental Disabilities (H-CARDD) Program at CAMH.
The study authors suggest that the rate of emergency department visits could
be brought down if there were better supports for people with autism in the
at-risk groups and better training of emergency department staff to deal with
the complex challenges people with autism present.
"Because the strongest predictor of future emergency visits is previous
use, that first visit is an opportunity to put a plan into place," says
Dr. Lunsky. "How can families be more prepared before they go to the
hospital and how can hospitals be more equipped to support them when they
The study, just published in BMJOpen, found three main predictors of future emergency
- Having had an emergency visit
in the year prior to the study period
- Elevated family distress at the
start of the study period
- Two or more negative life events just before the start
of the study period
Other variables like age, gender and autism severity did not predict future
emergency visits, highlighting the need to consider how to support all teens
and adults with autism, and not just certain subgroups.
"If we ask them, we can identify which families are most distressed. If
they aren't already visiting their local emergency department, this study tells
us that it is likely they may do so soon," says Dr. Lunsky. "So what
can we do now to address their distress and prevent an emergency from
The study looked at both medical and psychiatric emergencies and found that
different issues predicted each type of emergency. According to the authors
there can sometimes be overlap between the two.
"It may seem like a psychiatric emergency where the patient is getting
very angry and acting out, but there could be an underlying medical condition
that is not being treated," says Dr. Lunsky. "Or it could start out
as a medical emergency, but the hospital process is so stressful it becomes a
psychiatric emergency. Sometimes it's not entirely clear whether it's one
or the other."
Some practical steps for patients and their families recommended
by Dr. Lunsky include bringing a health information passport detailing the
person with autism's medical history and triggers, and having emergency
department clinicians conduct an "exit interview" prior to discharge
and connecting to community supports for ongoing care.
There are also many resources that have been developed for emergency departments
to help them improve the care of their patients with autism and other
To download broadcast quality clips of Dr. Lunsky, and video of the CAMH
Emergency Department, check out this link.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental
health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world's leading
research centres in its field. CAMH combines clinical care, research,
education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives
of people affected by mental health and addiction issues. CAMH is fully
affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health
Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more
information, please follow @CAMHnews and @CAMHResearch
For further information:
Sean O'Malley, Media Relations,
CAMH, 416 535 8501 x36663, firstname.lastname@example.org