Research Nodes

What is the current state of autism physical health research?

Autistic individuals have significantly lower physical health-related quality of life compared to other underserved and vulnerable groups within the United States. Lower health-related quality of life for autistic individuals is linked to a range of physical health challenges, underlying medical issues, and other chronic conditions beyond the scope of the diagnostic criteria for autism. Autistic individuals experience gastrointestinal disturbances, sleep problems, eating disorders, hyperactivity, lethargy, sensory processing problems, anxiety/fear, behavioral problems, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. In addition, comorbid psychiatric conditions are associated with poorer overall physical health outcomes among autistic children.

What are the biggest challenges?

Physical health challenges for autistic individuals also contribute to the quality of health care they receive. Specifically, the complexities of autism and comorbid conditions makes it difficult to diagnose and monitor the health of autistic individuals. The six areas identified by the AIR-P network (primary care & health care services, community-based lifestyle interventions, health care transitions, sexual, gender & reproductive health, neurology and genetics) represent the gaps in our current understanding of the life course health development of autistic individuals.

What is the role of AIR-P in advancing autism physical health research?

The AIR-P Research Network will support innovative life course intervention research that promotes optimal health and well-being of autistic individuals across the lifespan. The network will support cross-cutting research priorities such as implementing neurodiversity-oriented care, facilitating developmental transitions, and addressing health disparities. Objectives include conducting ongoing assessments to identify the needs, experiences, and priorities of autistic individuals and their families and translating research to policy and practice. This research agenda will be revised and updated as research continues to advance and the Network continues to expand.

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under award UT2MC39440, the Autism Intervention Research Network for Physical Health. The information, content, and/or conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS, or the US Government.