Category Archives: depression and autism

Depresion and Special Needs

It is pretty normal for students to have occasional times in their lives when they feel sad and/or moody. Life events such as a death, illness, being bullied, family arguments, or school stress can bring on periods of sadness. But what if a course of moodiness is more than a momentary event caused by a significant life event?

Depression is extremely common. The World Health Organization reports that globally, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. That statistic indicates that an estimated 20% of the population will experience a period of depression at some point in their lives but it is even more common in people on the autism spectrum. These numbers can seem overwhelming but the good news is that there are treatments and programs that can help. Depression can be successfully treated — with psychotherapy, medicine, or a combination of therapy and medicine — in most cases. The first step is to identify the symptoms and then seek help via school, a primary care doctor or a counselor. 

Here is a quick look at some of the symptoms of depression that your child may be exhibiting at school or home.

  • show a lack of energy, be irritable, and seem down in the dumps for no reason
  • withdraw from friends and family
  • not be able to concentrate in class
  • be defiant to teachers and other school staff
  • ask to go to the school nurse often
  • show significant weight loss or gain in a short period of time
  • talk about death or suicide
  • engage in risky or self-destructive behavior (drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or cutting, for example)
  • need additional time to complete classroom and homework assignments
  • miss class time due to doctors appointments, hospitalization, or inability to attend classes because of depression
  • need to go to the school nurse for medication
  • need short breaks throughout the day to avoid feeling overwhelmed

For more information and resources on Mental Health and Autism

Interactive Autism Network 

National Institute for Health 

Tips to Beating the Winter Blues

It is not uncommon to feel sad, less energetic, or even irritated when the days get shorter and the winter months close in on all of us. The winter blues impact about 4 to 6 percent of Americans. Another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is four times more common in women than in men. Although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually doesn’t start in people younger than age 20. Given the prevalence of these feelings here are five steps you can take to combat these seasonal blues . . . 

  • Stay Active – While it may be difficult to get outside and be active on the coldest days, it is important to keep moving and stay active. Exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and make you feel better. Walk the mall, do some yoga at home or just follow along to an exercise video. Your mood may lighten and make you feel less trapped.
  • Turn Up the Light – Our bodies react to the lack of sunlight during the winter months. Dark gloomy mornings can make our days start off with that same mood, as well. Therefore, turn on lights, or invest in a light box or special lamps that mimic natural outdoor light.
  • Get Creative – The winter months may mean that you go to school/work in the dark and return in the dark, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with get-togethers.

    Plan a movie night for yourself or a group of friends. Indulge in a hobby or start a project. Instead of feeling “trapped” inside, make a list of things you enjoy and find ways to engage in those activities.

  • Share your Feelings – Believe it or not, you are not alone in these feelings. The winter blues and even seasonal affective disorder may be impacting people you know. Talk to your parents, friends, relatives and peers about what you are feeling. They may be able to help you cope.
  • Eat Smarter – The old adage “you are what you eat” is very true especially when you are feeling down. Certain foods, like chocolate, can help to enhance your mood and relieve anxiety. Other foods, like candy and carbohydrates provide temporary feelings of euphoria, but could ultimately increase feelings of anxiety and depression.

If you are feeling more than just the winter blues, talk to a teacher, counselor or friend about seeking help to get through the winter months. Children with autism and those on the spectrum, struggle with depression commonly so keep an eye on the winter blues so that they don’t continue for months on end.

Depression and Autism

According to Autism Speaks, children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a higher rate of psychiatric disorders than that of the general population. Research suggests that autism shares a genetic basis with several major psychiatric disorders. These include attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Let’s examine one of these co-morbid disorders – depression a bit further and see what the experts research is currently reporting.

Individuals with ASD may be particularly prone to depression as they enter adolescence and adulthood. Here again, research suggests that depression can be particularly difficult to diagnose in those with autism. In part, this may stem from communication difficulties. Compared to other depressed individuals, those with autism may be less likely to express the feelings typically used to diagnose depression. These include saying one feels depressed, worthless, unable to concentrate or suicidal. In the absence of such statements, tell-tale signs can include neglect in personal hygiene and other self-care activities.

  • Teens -Depression is more common among teens with ASD than teens without ASD. Rates of major depressive disorder have been reported as high as 37% in adolescents with ASD compared to about 5% of adolescents in the general population. Studies that measured parent reports of depressed mood have revealed a rate as high as around 50%. There is also emerging research that has shown an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and tendencies among teens with ASD. This means that parents and school staff need to be on the lookout for the signs of depression.
  • Adults on the Spectrum – According to Synapse  an adult on the autism spectrum may face a range of difficulties across three broad areas, sometimes called the triad of impairments. This means that problems will be experienced to varying degrees with social communication, social understanding and imagination. The person can have trouble in appropriate social interaction with others, establishing and maintaining friendships and being able to anticipate what will happen in given situations. Depression is an understandable reaction to employment difficulties, social isolation, relationship issues and problems with adapting to a non-autistic world.

For more information about the dealing with depression:

Autism-at-a-Glance Depression

Autism and Depression Connection

Autism and Depression Synapse Online