Gender differences between adolescents with autism in emergency psychiatry

Pety So*, André I. Wierdsma, Christine van Boeijen, Robert R.J.M. Vermeiren, Niels C.L. Mulder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Adolescents, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders, increasingly use psychiatric emergency services. Such risk is further greater in girls. Available knowledge on young people with autism during crises lacks understanding of gender differences and of differences between typically developing adolescents and adolescents with autism. After psychiatric emergency consultations, we therefore compared the symptomatology and comorbidity of girls and boys with autism, and also to their typically developing male and female counterparts. We used registry data (2009–2017) on 1378 adolescents aged 12–18 years referred for urgent consultation to mobile psychiatric emergency services. This showed an increase in diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder from 7.9% in 2009 to 18.1% in 2016; autistic girls showed a steeper increase than autistic boys. A higher percentage of girls than boys with autism presented with comorbid anxiety disorders and a higher risk of suicide or self-harm, while the persistence of their complaints over time was rated lower. Adolescents with autism experienced more severe impairment in overall functioning, while being diagnosed less often with comorbid disorders as compared to typically developing adolescents. Outpatient care for autistic youth should include easy access to specialized professionals to help young people with autism cope with the challenges of adolescence. Lay abstract: Among adolescents seen for psychiatric emergency consultation, the percentage of adolescents with autism is increasing over the years. This applies even more to girls than to boys. We collected data of 1378 adolescents aged 12–18 years who were seen for urgent consultation by mobile psychiatric emergency services in the Netherlands. Among these, there were 64 autistic girls and 125 autistic boys. We wanted to know more about differences in problems between autistic and typical developing adolescents in crisis, both to prevent crisis and to improve services. The percentage of adolescents with autism increased over the years studied. Autistic adolescents experienced more severe impairment in functioning compared to typically developing adolescents. Compared to other adolescents, both boys and girls on the autism spectrum were diagnosed less frequently with mood disorders, behavioral disorders, relational problems, and abuse. Autistic girls had a higher suicide risk and suffered more often from anxiety disorders than autistic boys, while autistic boys had a longer history of problems. Outpatient care for children with autism should include easy access to specialized professionals who aim to reduce anxiety and help young people with autism to cope with the challenges of adolescence. Because possibly signs were missed during the emergency consultation, we recommend that as part of the routine procedure in crisis situations adolescents with autism are asked about mood and behavioral problems explicitly, as well as about negative life events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2331-2340
Number of pages10
JournalAutism
Volume25
Issue number8
Early online date3 Jun 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

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