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Autism and depression are two conditions that are deeply connected. Depression Open Talks will provide the latest scientific findings about these 2 mental issues. Check them out!

People with autism often have difficulty communicating, which can make them more susceptible to depression. In addition, people with depression often have a difficult time interacting with others, which can also lead to problems in social settings for those with autism. Finally, people with autism often have a difficult time focusing on tasks or activities, which can make it difficult for them to get out and socialize.

Autism-and-Depression-Science-Updates-Experts-Views

In autistic people, depression is a prevalent mental health issue. Suicidal thoughts and a significant impact on daily functioning are two significant effects of depression. During adolescence and early adulthood, depression among autistic people is becoming more and more prevalent. It frequently coexists with other illnesses, such as anxiety.

“I grew up speaking hardly ever outside the home. Even though I was yearning to fit in, I was unable to talk while knowing that I should.” -An adult with autism. Both men and women are equally affected by autism, which can be diagnosed at any age. Everyone with autism has a different experience with autism.

What is autism?

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is known as a developmental disorder. Along with behavior and learning, it has an impact on how people express themselves and connect with others. Autism is a lifelong disorder, and early childhood might be the time when symptoms and signs first show. Although there is no known cure for autism, therapies and support services can assist people with ASD to reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Signs and symptoms of autism

There are numerous indicators of autism spectrum condition. Not every symptom of autism will be present in every adult or child, and some adults and kids without autism may exhibit some of the same behaviors and symptoms.

People with autism spectrum conditions frequently struggle to communicate and form emotional and social connections with others. Additionally, they might perceive sounds and odors differently than other individuals do. Some of the possible behavioral symptoms of autism may be caused by these abnormalities.

There are developmental milestones kids are supposed to attain by specific ages. For example, babbling by four months old and being able to use simple sentences by two years old. Parents should pay attention while searching for early indicators of autism spectrum conditions. If a kid does not develop these skills by the time they should or does so later than expected, it may be a sign of a developmental condition like autism spectrum disorder.

If a kid fails to reach developmental milestone, it may be a sign of autism

Although the signs may be seen much earlier, autism can be diagnosed by the age of two. A few of the more prevalent indicators that a person may have autism are: 

  • Delayed communication and speech abilities;
  • Being agitated by seemingly insignificant changes; 
  • Avoiding eye contact; 
  • Dependence on procedures and rules, 
  • Inability to comprehend the feelings of others; 
  • Concentrating on or becoming fixated on a small number of hobbies or things; 
  • Repeating actions like rocking or flailing one’s hands; 
  • By 12 months, children are not reacting to their names, and by 14 months, they are not pointing at far-off objects.

🎗️ Related Blog: 5 fascinating things about Autism Awareness Month Signs.

Underpinnings of depression in autistic patients

Depression and other psychiatric diseases are typically a result of a combination of hereditary and environmental variables. As of right now, according to Lisa Gilotty, an autism specialist at the National Institute of Mental Health, experts are unsure how autism fits into that picture. One study conducted last year found that unaffected siblings of autistic people have an approximately 40% higher chance of developing depression compared to the general population, suggesting a hereditary component.

For others, particularly young people with autism who require little help, depression might be brought on by bullying, social issues, or other factors. According to one study, loneliness has the highest statistical correlation with depression. Autism can prevent people from meeting their social requirements, according to clinical psychologist Katherine Gotham, who oversaw the study.

According to a study presented in May at the International Society for Autism Research meeting, ruminating, which is the repetitive thinking about unpleasant events and emotions, can also prepare certain autistic persons for a depressive episode. Numerous autistic individuals exhibit repetitive habits and intensely concentrated interests. And it may be harmful to their mental health if they begin to dwell on sad or unpleasant events.

Clinicians must be attentive to detect depression

People who have autism may be particularly prone to dwelling on unpleasant feelings. Researchers found that adults with autism reacted more quickly to photographs of sad faces compared to photos of neutral ones. Additionally, compared to neurotypical depressed people or non-depressed people, depressed autistic adults focus on sad and angry faces and spend more time overall looking at sad faces.

Depression is an erratic condition. Clinicians must be attentive to their autistic patients in order to detect it over time. They must inquire about any minor changes in their functioning, including alterations in their sleep habits, social interactions, and food.

These difficulties are made worse by the fact that several indications of depression, such as social withdrawal, can be misdiagnosed as an aspect of autism. Fatigue, restlessness, and stomachaches—physical problems that frequently accompany autism—can also be signs of depression. Aggression, self-harm, and impatience are among the characteristics of autism that depression can occasionally increase. A complex clinical picture results from the hidden nature of depression and its comorbidity with autism features. Still being validated are diagnostic tools for depression in autistic people.

The deep emotional connection between autism and depression

Autists are four times more likely than neurotypicals to develop depression throughout their lives, according to a meta-analysis of 66 studies that was published in January. Age and intelligence both cause their incidences of depression to increase. According to Carla A. Mazefsky, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, more than 70% of autistic children and adolescents suffer from mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, which are thought to frequently last into adulthood or get worse.

The implications are severe for many autistic persons. Their independence, coping, daily living, social, and communication skills—all things they may already find difficult—can be greatly hampered by major depression. Suicidal thoughts may also be caused by depression. There is little hope accessible despite this dire situation. There is no research on the best diagnostic procedures or the most effective therapies for treating depression in autistic individuals.

For instance, it is unknown if depressed autistic persons respond to psychotherapy differently than other people do or how to best modify therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy for them. Because autistic persons frequently suffer from social communication and identifying their emotions, a condition known as alexithymia, talk therapy, in particular, may not be effective for them. Psychiatrists should solicit the assistance of those who are familiar with the patient because research has shown that people with autism may not articulate their emotions about depression.

Treatment for depression in autism

Only half the battle is won when depression is identified in autistic persons. The illness is also not easily treatable, and clinicians may have to make challenging choices. For instance, some autistic people, particularly youngsters, appear to be at a higher risk of side effects from antidepressants, such as agitation, hyperactivity, and violence.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Contrary to medicine, there is a greater study on non-drug therapy for autistic children and adults. However, a lot of the studies are modest in size and do not cover a wide range of autism spectrum disorders.

An individual receiving cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is assisted in altering unhelpful ideas and behaviors. That might enhance coping and mood. Clinical psychologists Tony Attwood and Michelle Garnett state that these concepts are part of this therapy:

  • Our actions are determined by our perceptions or opinions about things, people, and circumstances,
  • The results of our actions influence how frequently we repeat them,
  • Our thoughts and actions are subject to observation and modification.
Cognitive behavioral therapy

Some academics have looked at how to alter CBT to treat anxiety and depression in autistic patients. These adjustments include utilizing concrete language and imagery as well as taking into account the patient’s unique interests. Many individuals on the spectrum have a strong passion for a chosen subject or hobby.

According to a small Australian study, teens and young adults with mild types of autism benefitted from a CBT program called “think well, feel well, and be well” by experiencing fewer symptoms of stress and depression. Participants in that study learned that how individuals perceive a situation—as a threat or a challenge—affects their feelings and thinking. Other small trials suggested that CBT might be effective in treating depression in adults or adolescents with autism.

Combining Treatments for Depression

As an autistic participant in the SPARK autism project, Janet has suffered from depression due to a challenging childhood. She received an SSRI after being diagnosed with depression about ten years ago. She can only take antidepressants in modest amounts due to a major side effect, though. She confessed:

I don’t think I’ve ever gone through a period of my life without experiencing some amount of depression, but I always manage it by having structure and having a goal. I’m a strong believer in matching any kind of medication for depression with talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or something similar, so I’ve always done that.

Mindfulness Therapy and Autism

An autism-specific mindfulness therapy may be useful, according to a study of autistic individuals in the Netherlands. 20 adults were trained to pay attention to situations “in the present moment in a nonjudgmental and accepting way” as part of the therapy. They studied how to meditate for 40 to 60 minutes each day, six days a week, and mastered breathing techniques. A comparable group of 21 autistic people who received no therapy served as the treatment group’s comparison group. Compared to the comparison group, the therapy group displayed a decrease in depressive and anxious depression.

Autism and depression: Final words

In conclusion, autism and depression are deeply interconnected, with shared genetic and environmental factors. This connection is likely due to commonalities in the symptoms and experiences of both conditions, which can include social withdrawal, difficulty communicating, and repetitive behaviors. While there is still much to learn about the link between these disorders, studies like these are important steps in understanding the complex relationship between depression and autism. They also provide potential new strategies for treatment.

References

The Art and Science of Treating Depression in Autism. (2020, September 24). SPARK for Autism. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://sparkforautism.org/discover_article/treating-depression-autism/

Signs of autism | Ada. (2022, September 21). Ada Health. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://ada.com/signs-of-autism/

Weinstock, C. P. (2019, July 31). The deep emotional ties between autism and depression | Spectrum. Spectrum | Autism Research News. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://www.spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/the-deep-emotional-ties-between-depression-and-autism/

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