According to a recent
, it was found that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to suffer from depression in adulthood than the general population. The study was a Swedish population-based study that looked at 223,842 participants who were followed from when they were children into young adulthood. The study compared young adults with ASD to those without the disorder. The study also looked at the siblings of those with ASD to rule out any familial effect.
Close to 20% of the participants with ASD received a depression diagnosis in young adulthood. It was discovered that those with ASD who did not have an intellectual disability were at a greater risk for depression. People without intellectual disability may be more prone to depression because they have a greater awareness of their difficulties and know more about their own limitations.
Possible Reasons for Depression
While it is not clear from the study whether the higher rates of depression are the result of environmental factors or something biological, there are significant reasons why someone with ASD may be more prone to depression. Individuals with ASD have trouble with communication and social interaction and may find themselves disconnected from the people around them. In addition, some of the behaviors associated with ASD may cause individuals to be the source of ridicule or isolation.
Challenging to Diagnose
The rates of depression among these individuals may be even higher than reported due to the difficulty of diagnosing mood disorders in those with ASD. Individuals with ASD tend to have a flat affect, and their facial expressions don't always match their mood. In addition, people with ASD can have difficulty discussing their feeling and the feelings of others. Another challenge is that some of the symptoms of depression overlap with symptoms of ASD. These symptoms can include depressed affect, sleep disturbances, social withdrawal, and reduced communication with others.
The takeaway from this study is that families and physicians of individuals with ASD need to be more aware of the risk of depression. Children with ASD should be monitored for signs of depression so that they can receive early support and treatment.