Doctors Uncertain about Adults with ASDAccessing health care can be difficult for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A new study finds that health care practitioners may be a part of the problem. The study, from Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research, finds that health care practitioners lack training for working with adults with ASD. Practitioners also underestimate how many people with ASD are part of their practice. The study is a follow up to a survey that found many adults with ASD suffer from preventable health problems. The researchers posit that many of these problems—like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity—could be prevented with appropriate medical care.

The researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 primary care physicians, nurses, and social workers at Kaiser Permanente in northern California. The survey included questions about the practitioner’s ability to care for an adult with ASD and how many people with ASD were part of their practice. After the survey, the researchers interviewed nine physicians in person.

The data indicate that health care practitioners are not well prepared to care for adults with ASD. Seventy-seven percent of respondents rated their ability to care for an adult with ASD as “poor” or “fair.” Only two percent of respondents said they had more than 10 adults with ASD in their care. Kaiser Permanente’s records indicate that at least half of respondents have 10 or more adults with ASD in their practice.

Comments from the survey and the subsequent interviews revealed a low level of knowledge about ASD. One comment from a doctor stated that he was not concerned about knowing how to treat an adult with ASD because, as he stated, ASD only affects children. In interviews, the researchers found that physicians did not know what to do when faced with a person with ASD. The interview respondents reported being uncomfortable around people with ASD.

The researchers report that physicians want to improve their skills for treating adults with ASD.

The study suggests that medical care still has room for improvement when treating adults with ASD. Adults with ASD and their family members should be prepared to advocate for quality care when visiting their doctor.

This research was presented at the 2015 International Meeting for Autism Research in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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