A Pilot Study of Outpatient Mental Health Crisis Screening in Youth and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at risk for experiencing a mental health crisis. Mental health crises involve acute psychiatric states, such as aggression and/or suicidal ideation, that can result in harm to self or others. When a crisis occurs, families frequently turn to acute care services, including the emergency room (ER) and psychiatric hospitalization. These experiences can result in long wait times in the ER, polypharmacy, seclusion/restraint, and care that is often not sensitive to the child’s developmental needs. Outpatient models of crisis screening and management are urgently needed to identify these situations before they spiral out of control. Despite this need, no research exists on outpatient screening or multidisciplinary treatment approaches for mental health crisis in ASD. This study seeks to fill this gap by: 1) examining the feasibility and validity of an outpatient crisis screening protocol among 400 youth with ASD who are served at two disparate ASD community clinics; 2) identify the prevalence and basic characteristics of youth in crisis; and, 3) gather feedback from caregivers and providers about their experiences with the protocol. This study will be conducted by an expert, multidisciplinary team who recently developed the first crisis assessment in ASD. Results from this multisite study will lay the groundwork needed to develop and test the first outpatient crisis prevention and treatment models for children and young adults with ASD.