Depression and Autism

September 20, 2016

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