A new survey finds many health care providers admittedly know little about how to care for adults with autism.

Of 922 providers surveyed, 77 percent rated their ability to treat patients on the spectrum as poor or fair.

The findings were reported at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Salt Lake City this month.

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For the study, researchers with Kaiser Permanente Northern California polled providers of adult primary care, mental health and obstetrics and gynecology services through the insurer’s network.

Physicians were asked about their ability to recognize autism, their knowledge of the disorder, their comfort level in treating those with the condition and their need for training and resources.

While nearly all of the providers surveyed said they would explore the possibility of autism in patients with limited eye contact, most underreported the number of people on the spectrum who were under their care. What’s more, only 13 percent of doctors said they had adequate tools or referral resources to appropriately accommodate those with autism.

In more thorough follow-up interviews with nine primary care physicians, researchers found that the majority had received limited or no autism training in medical school or during their residencies. All of the providers indicated a need for more education and said they’d like to see improvements in the transition from pediatric care providers to adult medicine for those on the spectrum.

The issue is significant as an increasing number of individuals with autism are expected to enter adulthood in the coming years, Maria Massolo with the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente Northern California and her colleagues said in their findings.

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