Doctor with young adultBackground:

I work with families who have young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Parents interface with Early Intervention, public schools, and pediatrics. For a person with autism, age 22 marks the end of many childhood services. But autism doesn’t go away at age 22. One transition is the switch from child doctor to adult doctor. This can be a difficult task. Adult doctors often have little training in ASD. As a result, they may not be familiar with autism-related issues.

ASD service systems reflect the idea that it is a childhood disorder. Yet autism is lifelong. The rate of autism diagnosis is increasing. Children with ASD grow up to become adults with ASD. Our service systems need to catch up. We need to advocate for systems that better serve people throughout their lives. This includes better training for adult doctors. Recent studies show that adult doctors don’t have enough autism knowledge. The good news is that they seem interested in learning.1

Why is this important?:

  • Some health conditions maybe related to autism, or they may not  It is important for the doctor to know the difference.
  • People with autism may require unique needs for doctor’s visits.
  • Primary care doctors should be familiar with ASD services. This way, they can make referrals as needed.
  • Primary care doctors need to look at the big picture to provide good care. This includes things like housing, social life, family, and job. The doctor needs to understand how ASD impacts a person’s life.
  • A good primary care doctor can be an important advocate. He or she can help a patient access services.

How to find an adult doctor who understands autism:

  • See this list of doctors that serve people with ASD in Massachusetts.
  • Reach out to Autism Support Centers and local autism agencies to request help.
  • Find a doctor, at a teaching hospital, who may be more up-to-date with the latest research.
  • Contact the doctors’ offices and ask questions about their experience with ASD.
  • Refer to this healthcare toolkit, which provides tips on how to find the right doctor.
  1. Sarris, Marina. The Challenge: Finding Health Care Providers For Adults with Autism. Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger

Institute. 8 April 2016.

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