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Co-occurring autism, intellectual disabilities pose long-term health disadvantages

15 May 2020

Individuals with co-occurring intellectual disabilities and autism appear to be in an unfavourable position, as they are more likely to have additional long-term health conditions such as sensory impairments and physical disabilities, as reported in a study.

Researchers looked at 5,295,403 people aged 0–75+ years. They identified co-occurring intellectual disabilities and autism in 2,362 of 916,331 children (0–15 years) and in 3,347 of 4,379,072 adults, with a total number of 5,709 individuals (66 percent male; rate, 1.08 per 1,000 population).

Long-term health conditions were more common in children, adults and older adults with co-occurring intellectual disabilities and autism than in controls. Specifically, the odds ratios were 130.8 (95 percent confidence interval [CI], 117.1–146.1) for mental health condition, 65.9 (95 percent CI, 58.7–73.9) for visual impairment, 22.0 (95 percent CI, 19.2–25.2) for hearing impairment and 157.5 (95 percent CI, 144.6–171.7) for physical disability.

Across all age groups of individuals with co-occurring intellectual disabilities and autism, women had a higher prevalence of blindness, deafness and physical disability than men. On the other hand, mental health conditions were more common in the latter. All long-term health conditions increased in prevalence with age, except for physical disability, which was more prevalent among children/youth and elderly than among adults.

The present data have important implications given that long-term health conditions may largely affect quality of life, according to the researchers. Sensory impairments and mental health conditions compound with the pre-existing communication and cognitive problems of people with co-occurring intellectual disabilities and autism. This poses a challenge for healthcare professionals managing or working with the said people in terms of additional complexity in assessments, diagnoses and interventions of additional health conditions.

The researchers pointed out that the medical professionals providing care for the present population be trained, equipped, resourced and prepared to address the challenge.

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