THURSDAY, Oct. 22, 2020 — Kids with autism or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) go to the hospital more in their first year of life than children without these conditions, according to a new study.
These findings suggest that keeping track of hospital visits may be a new way to identify these conditions early and that might improve outcomes and lower health care costs, researchers say.
“This study provides evidence that children who develop autism and ADHD are on a different path from the beginning,” said study lead author Dr. Matthew Engelhard, a senior research associate at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
“We have known that children with these diagnoses have more interactions with the health care system after they’ve been diagnosed, but this indicates that distinctive patterns of utilization begin early in these children’s lives. This could provide an opportunity to intervene sooner,” he said in a Duke news release.
“We know that children with ASD [autism] and ADHD often receive their diagnosis much later, missing out on the proven benefits that early interventions can bring,” said co-author Geraldine Dawson, director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development. “Owing to the brain’s inherent malleability — its neuroplasticity — early detection and intervention are critical to improving outcomes in ASD, especially in terms of language and social skills.”
For the study, the researchers examined 10 years of data from electronic health records of nearly 30,000 children.
They found that children who were later diagnosed with one or both of the conditions tended to have longer hospital stays compared with children without these disorders.
Children diagnosed with autism had higher numbers of procedures, including intubation and ventilation, and more outpatient care visits for physical therapy and eye appointments.
Children with ADHD had more blood transfusions, hospital admissions and emergency department visits.
“We are hopeful that these early utilization patterns can eventually be combined with other sources of data to build automated surveillance tools to help parents and pediatricians identify which kids will benefit most from early assessment and treatment,” said co-author Scott Kollins, professor from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke’s School of Medicine.
The researchers plan additional analyses to find out which specific health problems prompted the extra doctor and hospital visits.
“We want to understand these distinctions in greater detail and identify them as soon as possible to make sure children have access to the resources they need,” Engelhard said.
The report was published online Oct. 19 in the journal Scientific Reports.
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