Assessing Ease of Delivering Emergency Care for Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Theodore Kouo, Neha Bharadwaj, Jennifer Kouo, Sean Tackett, Leticia Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The aim of this study was to develop a method for objectively assessing the delivery of care to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the emergency department (ED). Methods: A case-control study of patients ages 2 to 18 years admitted to the hospital from January 2016 to January 2018. Cases were defined as patients with an International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision diagnosis of ASD or other pervasive developmental disorder (F84) in their medical record and were matched 1:1 with neurotypical controls. The primary outcome was ability to complete several core tasks clinically necessary within an ED visit and summarized into a Task Completion Index (TCI). Results: Overall, children with ASD had higher median TCIs of 0.25 (interquartile range [IQR] 0-0.45) versus 0 (IQR 0-0.25) when compared with children without ASD (p < 0.01). Children with ASD were 5 times more likely to have difficulty with triage vitals, 3 times more likely to require additional staff for peripheral intravenous placement, and 4 times more likely to experience delays or disruptions to their plan of care. The TCI was also associated with 8-fold increased odds of receiving pharmacologic or physical restraint. Conclusions: The TCI reflects difficulty accomplishing core tasks necessary to complete an ED visit. Children with ASD have higher TCIs than neurotypical controls, which puts them at higher risk for care disruptions. Evaluation of initiatives to improve quality of care for children with ASD should focus not only on metrics of overall experience and satisfaction but also how these initiatives affect the ability to effectively administer care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)704-710
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Delivery of care
  • Pediatric emergency department

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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