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Updates in the Understanding of Autism

  • April 24, 2024

Special Issue of APA Journal Focus on Autism Spectrum Disorder

April is Autism Acceptance and Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness and promoting inclusion for individuals with autism. Once considered a rare condition, autism is now recognized as affecting 2% of the general population. Consequently, the needs of autistic individuals have become a focal point for health care professionals, especially given that those with autism experience psychiatric concerns at significantly higher rates than those without.

Deborah Bilder, M.D., of The University of Utah, was guest editor of this issue of Focus: The Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry which unites experts in the field of autism to explore topics that lie at the interface between mental health and autism. Roxanne Bartel, M.D., and colleagues launch this issue with a review of the discordance between psychiatric diagnoses and medication use in children and adults with autism presenting in crisis. They emphasize that recognizing this discordance can guide a conscientious approach to assessing and managing agitation in this patient population.

Sleep problems affect over 80% of autistic individuals, with profound negative effects on health, behavior, mood, and cognition. Annette Estes, Ph.D., et al. discuss practical approaches to sleep assessment in autistic individuals and synthesize approaches to addressing sleep problems.

Embracing neurodivergent narratives promotes empathy and allows individuals to better understand the diverse human experience. In his Ask the Expert feature, Stephen Watts shares his journey with navigating childhood and adolescence with undiagnosed autism. Mr. Watts’s personal experience helps to shift the perspective of autism from disability to diversity.

Lisa Broderick Thornton, J.D., in her feature, provides an essential answer to a common concern among parents of autistic children: What happens to my child when I am gone? Ms. Thornton emphasizes that, although parents generally cannot outlive their child with autism, with medical and mental health providers’ assistance, they can establish powerful safeguards that will support their child even after they have passed.

Innovative models of medical and psychiatric care are essential to meet the complex needs of individuals with autism. Patricia Aguayo, M.D., M.P.H., and coauthors highlight a subspecialty medical home program that provides accessible, comprehensive care for autistic individuals, exemplifying the positive impact of an integrated care approach.

In this issue’s Ethics Commentary, Jacob Appel, M.D., J.D., addresses ethical and legal aspects in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder, underscoring the challenges of protecting the autonomy and interests of adults with autism. A Communication Commentary by Dorothy Stubbe, M.D., provides guidance on engaging neurodiverse patients in their care and tips for effective communication with autistic patients.

See the full issue of Focus.

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