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  Spring Harbor Hospital News

Spring Harbor Psychiatrist and Researcher is Lead Author
of Study of Specialized Hospital Psychiatry Units
for Children With Autism 
Study leads to development of National Autism Research Collaborative 

 On December 21, 2011, a study entitled "Specialized Psychiatry Units for Children with Autism and Developmental Disorders: A United States Survey," was published on-line in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.  The study is the first to identify the rapid growth of hospital programs that specialize in serving children with autism.  The growth parallels the vast increase in the number of children identified with autism in the United States over the past decade.

The lead author of the study, Matthew Siegel, M.D., commented: "This is the first study to attempt to describe the U.S. system of care for children with autism who need psychiatric hospitalization. Specialized hospital units are being initiated due to the growing and needy autism population - a population with a high prevalence of co-morbid mental illness and use of psychiatric services." 

The study identified nine specialized hospital units in the United States, five of which had opened in the last 10 years.   Despite the growth in programs, only 137 beds nationwide were identified, and these were heavily concentrated in the Northeast, with no hospital resources available west of Denver, Colorado. 

The authors conducted an extensive internet search to identify potential specialized units, and then sent a survey by mail to each program asking for characteristics.  Response rate was 100 percent and revealed an average length of stay of 42 days, a population composed of 66 percent children with autism, and universal employment of multi-disciplinary teams with both a child psychiatrist and a behavioral specialist in order to provide a bio-behavioral approach.  The most common chief complaints at admission were aggression, self injury and elopement.  The specialized units reported great variance in funding mechanism, from 90 percent publicly funded to 90 percent private, indicating large state to state variability in funding approach.

 In responding to the survey, all nine units indicated a desire to collaborate to advance autism research, and have formed a national Autism and Developmental Disorders Inpatient Research Collaborative to develop joint study protocols involving the hundreds of individuals with autism admitted annually to these controlled environments. 

"This new, exciting collaboration," Siegel noted, "provides a unique platform for conducting early pilot investigations in an efficient manner with a ready population."


Dr. Siegel is the Medical Director of the Developmental Disorders Program at Spring Harbor Hospital, one of only nine hospitals in the country to have a specialized psychiatric unit solely dedicated to the care of children with autism and developmental disorders. Dr. Siegel is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry of the Tufts University School of Medicine and is actively engaged in a number of research projects on the treatment of children with autism.
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