Background: Autistic children are very difficult to manage in the hospital setting because they react badly to any change in routine.
Methods: We have developed a unique management program for autistic children admitted for medical and surgical procedures requiring a general anaesthetic. Details of each patient managed according to this program have been prospectively entered into an Autistic Register.
Results: An audit of this database shows that we have administered anaesthesia on 87 occasions for 59 autistic children over 4 years.
Conclusions: There is great variation in the severity of autism and hospital needs of these children. The focus is on early communication with the patient's families, flexibility to individualize the admission process and anaesthetic plan with admission and early discharge on the day of surgery whenever possible. Oral midazolam is an effective premedication for the milder cases and oral ketamine is the most reliable for moderate and severe cases. Comparison of oral midazolam and ketamine shows no significant different postoperative recovery and hospital discharge times. Routine intravenous fluids and antiemesis prophylaxis with removal of the i.v. cannula before return to the ward are also seen as important steps to decrease stress and smooth the postoperative phase. This program has also successfully been extended to the management of problem children due to other causes.