Health care transition (HCT) services help young people with special health care needs such as asthma or diabetes move from pediatric to adult health care. However, youths with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have less access to these services, which are designed to prevent gaps in care and insurance coverage. A University of Missouri researcher recommends that the medical community develop HCT services for individuals with ASD as a way to ensure consistent and coordinated care and increase their independence and quality of life.
Nancy Cheak-Zamora, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences in the MU School of Health Professions, found that less than a quarter of youths with ASD receive HCT services compared to about half of youths with other special health care needs. Occasionally, young adults lack health services for several years after they leave the care of their pediatricians, but the gap in care is more harmful for young adults with ASD. In addition to their behavioral and communication difficulties, nearly half of youths with ASD have major co-existing medical conditions, such as seizures, gastrointestinal problems or sleep disturbances. These conditions increase the youths' dependence on the health care system and their need for HCT services, Cheak-Zamora said.
"The health care community is doing a great job getting young people with ASD into therapies," Cheak-Zamora said. "However, once the youths age into adulthood, we stop thinking about how to help them address their medical needs and the new challenges they're facing. Similar to educational, vocational or social transitioning, HCT services are necessary to help individuals with ASD function independently."