Children and young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) use mental health services to address behavioral problems and to treat related mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
“Over 46 percent of adolescents with an ASD used a mental health service in the past year,” says Sarah Narendorf, social work doctoral candidate at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, in a new study published in the current issue of Psychiatric Services.
“Of those who used mental health services, 49 percent received the service at their schools,” she says.
Narendorf also found that African-American adolescents and youths from lower income families were more likely to receive school-based services.
“Teens with autism often have a need for support with many issues including medical, educational and mental health problems,” says Paul Shattuck, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School and study co-author.
“They are often involved with multiple systems of service provision including schools, doctors, hospitals, specialty clinics, and others. This complexity of needs, coupled with the complexity of getting services, puts a tremendous strain on families”
Narendorf says the findings highlight the importance of providing solid transition planning for mental health services as youth with ASDs leave high school.
“Those that have accessed services at school are especially at risk for service discontinuities as they lose access to services through the school,” she says.
“This is especially important for African American and low-income students who are more likely to get their services in the school setting.”
For their study, “Mental Health Service Use Among Adolescents With an Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Narendorf, Shattuck and study coauthor Paul Sterzing, a social work doctoral candidate at the Brown School, used the U.S. Department of Education’s National Longitudinal Transition Study 2.
The 10-year study included a nationally representative sample of more than 920 youth with autism who were enrolled in special education, ages 13-17, at the start of the study in 2000.