OBJECTIVES

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have high rates of cooccurring conditions and are hospitalized longer and more frequently than children without ASD. Little is known about use of involuntary physical or pharmacologic restraint in hospitalized children with ASD. This study compares use of restraint because of violent or self-injurious behavior during inpatient pediatric hospitalization in children with ASD compared with typical peers.

METHODS

This retrospective cohort study examines electronic health records of all children aged 5 to 21 years admitted to a pediatric medical unit at a large urban hospital between October 2016 and October 2021. Billing diagnoses from inpatient encounters identified ASD and cooccurring diagnoses. Clinical orders identified physical and pharmacologic restraint. Propensity score matching ensured equivalency between ASD and matched non-ASD groups on demographic factors. Logistic regression determined the odds of restraint in children with ASD compared with children without ASD, controlling for hospitalization factors and cooccurring diagnoses.

RESULTS

Of 21 275 hospitalized children, 367 (1.7%) experienced restraint and 1187 (5.6%) had ASD. After adjusting for reason for admission, length of stay, and cooccurring mental health, developmental, and behavioral disorders, children with ASD were significantly more likely to be restrained than children without ASD (odds ratio 2.3, 95% confidence interval 1.6–3.4; P < .001).

CONCLUSIONS

Hospitalized children with ASD have significantly higher odds of restraint for violent or self-injurious behavior compared with children without ASD after accounting for reason for admission, length of hospitalization and cooccurring diagnoses. Work is needed to modify the hospital environment for children with ASD to reduce behavioral dysregulation and restraint.

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