Barriers to healthcare and self-reported adverse outcomes for autistic adults: a cross-sectional study

Journal article


Doherty, M., Neilson, S., O'Sullivan, J., Carravallah, L., Johnson, M., Cullen, W. and Shaw, S.C.K. (2022). Barriers to healthcare and self-reported adverse outcomes for autistic adults: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2021-056904
AuthorsDoherty, M., Neilson, S., O'Sullivan, J., Carravallah, L., Johnson, M., Cullen, W. and Shaw, S.C.K.
Abstract

Objectives Autistic people experience poor physical and mental health along with reduced life expectancy compared with non-autistic people. Our aim was to identify self-reported barriers to primary care access by autistic adults compared with non-autistic adults and to link these barriers to self-reported adverse health consequences.

Design Following consultation with the autistic community at an autistic conference, Autscape, we developed a self-report survey, which we administered online through social media platforms.

Setting A 52-item, international, online survey.

Participants 507 autistic adults and 157 non-autistic adults.

Primary and secondary outcome measures Self-reported barriers to accessing healthcare and associated adverse health outcomes.

Results Eighty per cent of autistic adults and 37% of non-autistic respondents reported difficulty visiting a general practitioner (GP). The highest-rated barriers by autistic adults were deciding if symptoms warrant a GP visit (72%), difficulty making appointments by telephone (62%), not feeling understood (56%), difficulty communicating with their doctor (53%) and the waiting room environment (51%). Autistic adults reported a preference for online or text-based appointment booking, facility to email in advance the reason for consultation, the first or last clinic appointment and a quiet place to wait. Self-reported adverse health outcomes experienced by autistic adults were associated with barriers to accessing healthcare. Adverse outcomes included untreated physical and mental health conditions, not attending specialist referral or screening programmes, requiring more extensive treatment or surgery due to late presentations and untreated potentially life-threatening conditions. There were no significant differences in difficulty attending, barriers experienced or adverse outcomes between formally diagnosed and self-identified autistic respondents.

Conclusions Reduction of healthcare inequalities for autistic people requires that healthcare providers understand autistic perspectives, communication needs and sensory sensitivities. Adjustments for autism-specific needs are as necessary as ramps for wheelchair users.

Year2022
JournalBMJ Open
PublisherSpringer
ISSN2044-6055
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2021-056904
Web address (URL)https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2021-056904
Publication dates
Online22 Feb 2022
Publication process dates
Accepted13 Jan 2022
Deposited09 Aug 2022
Publisher's version
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Open
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Pukki, H., Bettin, J., Outlaw, A.G., Hennessy, J., Brook, K., Dekker, M., Doherty, M., Shaw, S.C.K., Bervoets, J., Rudolph, S., Corneloup, T., Derwent, K., Lee, O., Garcia Rojas, Y., Lawson, W., Vidal Gutierrez, M., Petek, K., Tsiakkirou, M., Suoninen, A., Minchin, J., Döhle, R., Lipinski, S., Natri, H., Reardon, E., Villarreal Estrada, G., Platon, O., Chown, N., Satsuki, A., Milton, D., Walker, N., Roldan, O., Herrán, B., Limón Cañedo, C., McCowan, S., Johnson, M., Turner, E.J., Lammers, J. and Yoon, w-h. (2022). Autistic Perspectives on the Future of Clinical Autism Research. Autism in Adulthood. 4 (2), pp. 93-101. https://doi.org/10.1089/aut.2022.0017