At The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Dorothea Iannuzzi and colleague have an article titled "Brief Report: Emergency Department Utilization by Individuals with Autism."
To identify medical problems most commonly presenting to emergency departments among individuals with autism as compared to non-autistic persons across age groups. Data was obtained from the 2010 National Emergency Department database and was analyzed by age categories: 3–5, 6–11, 12–15, 16–18 and 19 years and older. Epilepsy emerged as the leading presenting diagnosis among those with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ages 16–19 years and 19 over. Psychiatric conditions were primary among ASD individuals aged 12–15 years, accounting for more than 11 % of all visits. In this sample, age-related differences were noted in medical diagnoses among autistic individuals as compared to non-autistic persons
From the article:
The findings of this preliminary study highlight several trends in ED utilization by individuals with ASD by age group. One important finding was that ED use by adults on the autism spectrum is considerably higher than ED utilization by children with a diagnosis of ASD. In addition, a high rate of psychiatric diagnoses and seizure disorders amongst individuals with autism was found as compared to those without autism. This finding supports the previous report of Kalb et al. (2012), and supports the need for further exploration into the psychiatric comorbidities that are most commonly diagnosed in individuals with autism.
An issue that merits further evaluation is how many of the individuals presenting with self-injurious or aggressive behavior were evaluated for underlying medical conditions. In many individuals with autism, maladaptive behavior can be an expression of physical pain or discomfort. Making the assumption that maladaptive behavior is purely psychiatric or ‘‘behavioral’’ in nature can result in inappropriate treatment intervention, which could then compromise the quality of care received by individuals with autism during an ED visit. Assumptions and presumptions made by ED clinicians that aberrant behavior is simply due to the autism can result in medical errors and or exacerbation of the presenting disorders. A complete medical work up is essential for individuals in order to rule out an underlying medical condition that could be the cause of the self- injury or aggression. [emphasis added]
Kalb, L. G., Stuart, E., Freedman, B., Zablotsky, B., & Vasa, R. (2012). Psychiatric -related emergency department visits among children with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatric Emergency Care, 28(12), 1269–1275.