Understanding The Link Between Autism And Depression

Understanding The Link Between Autism And Depression

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People diagnosed with autism often find themselves facing unique challenges as they become adults. While circumstances vary from individual to individual, one of the biggest problems all people with ASD face is potentially coping with depression.

Research has begun to show a significant number of people who have autism end up being diagnosed with depression as well. At Lexington Services, we’ve been actively tracking research associated with the link between ASD and depression. Many studies are showing a direct correlation between the two conditions.

Statistics And Other Findings Linking Autism With Depression

Researchers now believe depression is more widespread in the autism community than previously thought. According to recent research published by the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, almost half of adults with autism will experience clinical depression at some point during their lives.

The study, which was comprised of a “systematic review” of about 8,000 research articles, found clear evidence there is a link between depression and autism in both children and adults. Other important information we think you should know about includes:

  • Depression is more common in adults with autism who have higher IQ numbers (unlike the general population where the reverse is true). It is theorized this is because people with higher IQs experience a greater awareness of their condition, making them more prone to depression.
  • Significant overlap has been documented between ASD and mood disorders.
  • Two-thirds of people with autism are also diagnosed with one or more other psychiatric disorders.
  • Clinical depression is the leading cause of disability when looking at the worldwide general population. Yet, people with autism are four times more likely to suffer depression at some point in their lives than people without ASD.
  • One survey given to parents of children with autism surmised contemplation of or attempting suicide was 28 times greater in children with autism than children with typical development.
  • Researchers find depression is more commonly diagnosed when clinicians ask a person with ASD directly rather than asking their caregivers.

The numbers in various surveys and research that has been conducted clearly show this is an urgent situation that cannot be ignored. Since it can be difficult to diagnose depression in individuals with ASD, caregivers and clinicians should see to it that people with autism should be regularly screened to ensure that they receive proper treatment before the situation spirals out of control if depression is indeed a factor.




Why Detecting Depression In Adults With Autism Is Critical

Since adults with autism find it difficult to express their feelings, parents and clinicians should be on high alert to any potential symptoms of depression. As a parent of an adult child with autism, it’s important for you to understand what to look for if any warning signs start to emerge.

If they do, you’ll be prepared to have your loved one see a professional as early as possible for an evaluation. If depression is present, it can be treated before it takes too firm of a hold and potentially results in devastating consequences.

It’s also essential to seek an evaluation quickly because depression can have life-altering consequences for people with autism. Research also shows:

  • Mood disorders can have negative effects on a person’s quality of life.
  • Depression in people with ASD tends to cause increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
  • Loss of previously learned skills can occur in people who have both ASD and depression.
  • Individuals may experience increased difficulty carrying out daily tasks in their routines.

Being roughly half of the people who have ASD eventually suffer from depression, families with a member who has autism should be very vigilant and be able to recognize the risk factors even before they reach adulthood. Depression rates for children aged 18 and under who also have autism are found to be close to eight percent.




Since people with autism typically have difficulty communicating how they feel, depression symptoms could be less subtle. Things you should watch for include:

  • Behavioral changes because your family member may not be able to tell you their feelings.
  • Sudden or increased loss of interest in favorite activities.
  • Physiological changes such as new sleep patterns, different eating habits, changes in attention abilities or varying energy levels outside of the norm.
  • Any other cognitive changes that may signal depression is present or emerging.

If your family member exhibits any of the above symptoms, shares feelings of worthlessness, expresses suicidal thoughts or takes harmful actions, you need to seek help immediately. This is not a situation you should try to handle on your own. Diagnosis is difficult, and you want professional help as soon as possible.

Challenges Of Treating Depression In Adults With Autism

While we know treating depression sooner than later is critical, we also recognize that there are some difficulties associated with treating depression in adults with autism. Additionally, clinicians are often faced with trying to differentiate the overlapping of symptoms between autism and psychiatric issues.

  • Depression medications might have side effects when mixed with autism medications.
  • Side effects of many depression medicines can have a negative impact on people with ASD.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (talk therapy) could be ineffective or difficult for clinicians and patients.
  • Clinicians may have to rely on observed changes, which could be challenging since they don’t spend every day with their patients. They’ll have to rely on family and/or caregivers to provide them with information.
  • Since depression is typically linked to withdrawal from other people, it may be inadvertently overlooked in people with ASD because they often prefer isolation.

Sometimes doctors can prescribe medication that is equally helpful for autism and depression and able to lessen the symptoms of both conditions. An answer may also be found in applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy). This form of treatment is often used when treating autism but is also found to be effective in treating depression as well.

At Lexington Services, we understand the urgency of detecting signs of symptoms in persons with autism. Specialized schools, such as ours, are able to provide a variety of specialized services, including behavioral therapies, to help your family member.

Depression is a serious situation. The sooner you pursue treatment increases the chances your loved one won’t suffer the devastating effects associated with depression.

For more reading like this, check out our previous blog post.




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