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Res Autism Spectr Disord. 2018 Jul;51:32-37. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2018.03.009. Epub 2018 Apr 11.

Treatment Utilization by Adults with Autism and Co-Occurring Anxiety or Depression.

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Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research, Department of Psychiatry, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Department of Psychiatry, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.



While a growing body of research suggests that talk therapies can reduce anxiety and depression in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we know little about what community treatment for these disorders looks like for them. The present study investigated whether treatment utilization differs between adults with and without ASD who have anxiety or depression.


Using Pennsylvania Medicaid claims data, adults aged 18-65 years diagnosed with ASD and depression or anxiety (n = 268) were matched 1:4 to adults with depression or anxiety disorder without ASD (n = 1,072). Chi-square tests and generalized linear models were used to estimate differences in diagnoses and psychiatric treatment between groups.


While the proportion of people prescribed benzodiazepine and antidepressants did not differ between groups, the ASD group had more days per month prescribed for all medications. Adults with ASD also were more likely to be prescribed multiple medications concurrently and to use case management. Adults without ASD were more likely to receive talk therapy for anxiety/depression. Among those receiving talk therapy, adults with ASD averaged more individual visits per month.


Findings suggest that therapists may need more session time for adults with ASD, although it is unclear if this time is dedicated to anxiety or depression treatment. The greater use of psychotropic medications among adults with ASD may suggest unresponsiveness to the talk therapy they receive or greater clinical complexity.


Autism spectrum disorder; adults; anxiety; depression; therapy; treatment

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