Many kids and teens with autism exhibit challenging behaviors, but new research suggests that certain risk factors separate those that end up needing inpatient treatment.

Everything from co-occurring conditions to sleep problems, autism severity and the level of supports an individual has at home appear to impact the likelihood of psychiatric hospitalization, according to findings published recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Researchers reviewed data on 218 individuals with autism ages 4 to 20 who had been hospitalized and compared their experiences to those of 255 similarly-aged kids and teens on the spectrum who had not received inpatient psychiatric treatment.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In particular, the study found that having a mood disorder increased the odds of hospitalization sevenfold while those with sleep problems faced over twice the risk.

Meanwhile, having a high score on a standardized measure of autism severity also upped the likelihood of hospitalization while better adaptive functioning skills correlated with a lessened chance, the study found.

What’s more, young people living with married caregivers had lower odds of hospitalization than those with similar circumstances who lived with just one caregiver.

Other factors including the presence of intellectual disability or gastrointestinal issues did not appear to influence the chance of hospitalization, the researchers said.

The findings point to a need to address autism from a broad perspective to prevent behaviors from escalating to crisis levels, the study authors indicated. Identifying and addressing those on the spectrum who are at risk of experiencing a crisis situation is particularly important since resources are scarce.

“The demand is far greater than the number of clinicians, the number of programs and the number of beds we have,” said Giulia Righi of Brown University who led the study. “One of the biggest issues is the availability of acute care services such as day hospital programs and inpatient units to support families when their children’s behaviors have escalated to the point of making a situation unsafe at home, at school or sometimes both.”