Aims and Objectives:
Staying in a hospital for long time can be frustrating for children with autism. This frustration may lead to mild episodes of agitation like repetitive behaviors and speech. It may also lead to more severe incidents like aggression or self-injury. This study aimed to identify how frequently children with autism were agitated in inpatient settings. It also examined factors that may increase risk for these behaviors.
Participants included 168 children with autism who were admitted to the Massachusetts General Hospital as inpatients between 2009 and 2013. All children were between 8 to 18 years of age. Researchers reviewed their medical records for information related to agitation and other behaviors.
31 of the 168 children (18.5%) studied experienced agitation during their time as inpatients. The number of episodes per stay ranged from 1 to 32 times. 69 of those children (41%) had 1 episode of agitation, 59 children (35%) had 2-3, 40 children (24%) had 4 or more. Having a history of agitation and/or sensory sensitivities increased a patient’s risk of acting in this way. Having a mental illness did not increase risk of agitation. Intellectual disability or an acute pain did not add to the risk for agitation. Finally, sex, age and individual details about their specific diagnosis were not found to increase risk.
This research suggests that children with autism often experience agitation in inpatient settings. Sensory challenges and a history of agitation may increase the risk for agitation while in the hospital. Knowledge of these and other risk factors may help service providers to improve their approach when seeing these patients and lead to better results and experiences.