Study Says Autistic Teens Rely on School Help

August 22, 2011 Updated: August 22, 2011

A new study released on Monday, Aug.22 found that a high percentage young adults and children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) use school mental health services to treat related mental health disorders.

The study found that 46 percent of adolescents with autism “used a mental health service in the past year,” Sarah Narendorf, a social work doctoral candidate with the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, which conducted the study, said in a statement.

Of that number of students using mental health services, “49 percent received it at their schools,” she noted. The students with ASD likely sought services to help deal with anxiety and depression, the study said.

Autism is a complicated disorder that affects a child’s ability to reason, think, learn, communicate, and interact with others. The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that autism affects 1 out of 110 children born in the country today.

“Teens with autism often have a need for support with many issues including medical, educational, and mental health problems,” stated Paul Shattuck, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Brown School and the co-author of the study.

The teens often seek multiple avenues to deal with behavioral and mental health problems at doctors, schools, hospitals, specialty clinics, and other means, he added. “This complexity of needs, coupled with the complexity of getting services, puts a tremendous strain on families,” said Shattuck.

The findings in the study imply that it is important to plan mental health services for kids with autism after they 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,” said Narendorf.

Narendorf also found that African-American children and children with ASDs from lower income families were more likely than others to use school-based services.

The study’s findings are “especially important for African-American and low-income students who are more likely to get their services in the school setting,” she added.

Researchers at Brown School used the U.S. Department of Education’s National Longitudinal Transition Study 2.

The transition study took place over 10 years, starting in 2000. Researchers examined 920 youths between the ages of 13 and 17 with ASDs. The sampling of children was nationally representative of youths with ASDs.

In a study released last week, researchers at the University of California Davis Medical Center’s MIND Institute found that the younger siblings of a child diagnosed with an ASD have an 18.7 percent chance of being diagnosed with autism. The study noted that the percentage is much higher than previous estimates.