Adults with autism are having a harder time accessing health care compared to their typically developing peers, new research suggests.

As a group, those on the autism spectrum are reporting more unmet health care needs, greater use of the emergency room and they are less likely to take advantage of preventive services like Pap smears or tetanus shots than others without the disorder.

Adults with autism also report being less satisfied with communication from doctors and not as comfortable navigating the health care system, according to a new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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The disparities are occurring even though people with the developmental disorder are just as likely to have a primary care physician, researchers found in the study which was based on an online survey of 209 adults with autism and 228 without.

“As a primary care provider, I know that our health care system is not always set up to offer high quality care to adults on the autism spectrum. However, I was saddened to see how large the disparities were,” said Christina Nicolaidis of Oregon Health & Science University who led the study. “We really need to find better ways to serve them.”

Nicolaidis and her colleagues say that doctors should be aware of this potential health care disparity and be more willing to provide accommodations to patients with autism. Possible strategies could include providing an alternative to waiting areas that may be over-stimulating, allowing patients to communicate by writing or typing and utilizing very precise language and step-by-step instructions, the study said.

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