Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are frequently affected by co-occurring medical conditions (COCs), which vary in severity, age of onset, and pathophysiological characteristics. The presence of COCs contributes to significant heterogeneity in the clinical presentation of ASD between individuals and a better understanding of COCs may offer greater insight into the etiology of ASD in specific subgroups while also providing guidance for diagnostic and treatment protocols. This study retrospectively analyzed medical claims data from a private United States health plan between years 2000–2015 to investigate patterns of COC diagnoses in a cohort of 3,278 children with ASD throughout their first five years of enrollment compared to 279,693 children from the general population without ASD diagnoses (POP cohort). Three subgroups of children with ASD were identified by k-means clustering using these COC patterns. The first cluster was characterized by generally high rates of COC diagnosis and comprised 23.7% (n = 776) of the cohort. Diagnoses of developmental delays were dominant in the second cluster containing 26.5% (n = 870) of the cohort. Children in the third cluster, making up 49.8% (n = 1,632) of the cohort, had the lowest rates of COC diagnosis, which were slightly higher than rates observed in the POP cohort. A secondary analysis using these data found that GI and immune disorders showed similar longitudinal patterns of prevalence, as did seizure and sleep disorders. These findings may help to better inform the development of diagnostic workup and treatment protocols for COCs in children with ASD.
Autism Research 12, No. 8, pp. 1272-1285 (2019)