Objective To examine whether increased provision of community-based services is associated with decreased psychiatric hospitalizations among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
Design Retrospective cohort study using discrete-time logistic regression to examine the association of service use in the preceding 60 days with the risk of hospitalization.
Setting The Medicaid-reimbursed health care system in the continental United States.
Participants Medicaid-enrolled children with an ASD diagnosis in 2004 (N = 28 428).
Main Exposures Use of respite care and therapeutic services, based on procedure codes.
Main Outcome Measures Hospitalizations associated with a diagnosis of ASD (International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision, codes 299.0, 299.8, and 299.9).
Results Each $1000 increase in spending on respite care during the preceding 60 days resulted in an 8% decrease in the odds of hospitalization in adjusted analysis. Use of therapeutic services was not associated with reduced risk of hospitalization.
Conclusions Respite care is not universally available through Medicaid. It may represent a critical type of service for supporting families in addressing challenging child behaviors. States should increase the availability of respite care for Medicaid-enrolled children with ASDs. The lack of association between therapeutic services and hospitalization raises concerns regarding the effectiveness of these services.