Agitation in Patients With Autism Spectrum Disorder Admitted to Inpatient Pediatric Medical Units

Pediatrics. 2020 Apr;145(Suppl 1):S108-S116. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-1895N.


Objectives: Our goals for this study were to characterize the frequency of agitation in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) admitted to an inpatient pediatric medical unit and to identify risk factors associated with agitation.

Methods: Through a retrospective chart review, we identified every patient between 8 and 19 years of age with a documented ASD diagnosis admitted to a pediatric medical unit over a 5-year period. We performed a detailed review of each admission, with a focus on factors hypothesized to be correlated with risk of agitation.

Results: One or more episode of agitation occurred during 37 (12.4%) of the 299 admissions and for 31 (18.5%) of the 168 patients who met inclusion criteria. History of agitation (risk ratio 21.9 [95% confidence interval 5.4-88.3] for history of severe agitation; P < .001) and documented sensory sensitivities (risk ratio 2.3 [95% confidence interval 1.3-3.8]; P < .001) were associated with a significantly increased risk of agitation during admission. History of past psychiatric admissions was associated with increased risk before, but not after, controlling for history of agitation and sensory sensitivities. Psychiatric comorbidity, intellectual disability, acute pain on admission, number of preadmission psychotropic medications, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition ASD diagnosis, age, and sex were not significantly associated with increased risk.

Conclusions: Hospitalization can be challenging for patients with ASD. A subset of these patients experience episodes of agitation during admission, posing a safety risk to patients and staff. Characterizing risk factors associated with these behaviors may allow for identification of at-risk patients and guide targeted intervention to prevent negative behavioral outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / complications*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Agitation / epidemiology
  • Psychomotor Agitation / etiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult