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Lower Completion of Depression Screening and Higher Positivity Among Autistic Adolescents Across a Large Pediatric Primary Care Network

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OBJECTIVE: To examine rates of depression screening and positivity among autistic adolescents where electronic depression screening is administered universally; to compare rates between autistic and nonautistic youth; and to explore sociodemographic and clinical factors associated with screening completion and results. METHODS: We conducted a retrospective cohort study comparing 12-17-year-old autistic and nonautistic adolescents presenting for well-child care in a large pediatric primary care network between November 2017 and January 2019 (N = 60,181). Sociodemographic and clinical data, including PHQ-9-M completion status and results, were extracted digitally from the electronic health record and compared between autistic and nonautistic youth. Logistic regression explored the relationship between sociodemographic and clinical factors and screen completion and results, stratified by autism diagnosis. RESULTS: Autistic adolescents were significantly less likely to have a completed depression screen compared to nonautistic adolescents [67.0% vs 78.9%, odds ratio (OR) = 0.54, P < .01]. Among those with a completed screen, a higher percentage of autistic youths screened positive for depression (39.1% vs 22.8%; OR = 2.18, P < .01,) and suicidal ideation/behavior (13.4% vs 6.8%; OR = 2.13, P < .01). Factors associated with screening completion and positivity differed between autistic and nonautistic groups. CONCLUSIONS: Autistic adolescents were less likely to have a completed depression screen when presenting for well-child care. However, when screened, they were more likely to endorse depression and suicide risk. This suggests disparities in depression screening and risk among autistic youth compared to nonautistic youth. Additional research should evaluate the source of these disparities, explore barriers to screening, and examine longitudinal outcomes of positive results among this population.


Hamdan SZ, Davis M, Faig W, Guthrie W, Yerys BE, Wallis KE