Understanding How Youths With Autism Make the Move to Adult Health Care

Understanding How Youths With Autism Make the Move to Adult Health Care 1024 683 Mary Bates, PhD

Study finds overlap in the utilization of pediatric and adult health care is the norm.

In a new study, researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University teamed up to better understand how adolescents and young adults with autism navigate the transition from pediatric to adult health care.

“We wanted to characterize the timeline of the transition from pediatric to adult care, as well as the presence and nature of any overlap of care, in this population,” says Laura Hart, MD, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s and co-author of the study.

Dr. Hart and colleagues analyzed electronic medical record data from a cohort of adolescents and young adults with autism seen at the Center for Autism Services and Transition (CAST), a program based at The Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Many of the patients seen at CAST were referred there after receiving pediatric care from Nationwide Children’s, which allowed the researchers to study the health care use of patients seen at both institutions.

They found that the majority of patients (65%) had some contact with the pediatric health system after their first adult primary care appointment. Frequently, these contacts were to visit specialists or fill prescriptions at their pediatric hospital. The results also showed that younger age and more pediatric visits at the time of the first adult health care appointment were associated with continued use of pediatric care.

“We sometimes think of patients being seen in the pediatric health system and then moving to the adult health system,” says Dr. Hart, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “But there is a space in between where they are doing a bit of both, and that overlap in care is likely the rule rather than the exception for adolescents and young adults with autism.”

Although this study looked specifically at the overlap of pediatric and adult care for youths with autism, future work could investigate the generalizability of the findings to young people with other chronic conditions.

Dr. Hart and colleagues say physicians should be aware of this overlap in care, as it is a practical reality for many patients with autism and potentially other populations.

“For pediatricians, this highlights that your patients and their families may need you even after what you declare to be the last visit,” she says. “You need to be sensitive to that possibility and help the folks that might need it.”

Adult providers, meanwhile, should be open to the idea that some patients may continue to use the pediatric health care system after they transition to adult care.

“You need to be flexible and supportive of patients that have a foot in both spaces and may need some extra help or time to make that full transition to adult care,” says. Dr. Hart.



Sirrianni J, Hanks C, Rust S, Hart LC. Continuation of Pediatric Care after Transfer to Adult Care Among Autistic Youth Overlap of Pediatric and Adult Care. J Autism Dev Disord. 2024 Mar 23. doi: 10.1007/s10803-024-06314-5. Epub ahead of print.

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About the author

Mary a freelance science writer and blogger based in Boston. Her favorite topics include biology, psychology, neuroscience, ecology, and animal behavior. She has a BA in Biology-Psychology with a minor in English from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, and a PhD from Brown University, where she researched bat echolocation and bullfrog chorusing.