The Connection Between Autism & Depression
Autism is a developmental disorder that involves issues with socialization, communication, and ritualistic and repetitive behaviors. Depression is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and isolation.
People with autism are more likely to struggle with depression than neurotypical individuals. When autism and depression co-occur, it is referred to as comorbid disorders.
There are a variety of reasons that someone with autism may be more prone to also suffer from depression, including:
- Genetic factors. Both autism and depression are potentially heritable disorders.
- Social and personal isolation. Autism can make it tough for people to communicate and socialize effectively, which can lead to loneliness as well as difficulties forming and maintaining friendships.
- Bullying. Children and teens with autism can often be mistreated, leading to feelings of negative self-worth.
- Repetitive thoughts and actions. People with autism engage in ritualized behaviors, which can lead to pervasive negative thoughts and emotions and a tendency to dwell on them.
- Low self-esteem. Frustration with educational and academic abilities and challenges, as well as a recognition of being different from peers, can contribute to negative views of oneself.
Another major risk for comorbid depression and autism is self-harm. People with these co-occurring disorders have an increased rate of suicide and suicidal thoughts compared to the general population.
Treatment For Overlapping Asperger’s And Depression
How are overlapping Asperger’s disorder and depression treated? In general, there hasn’t been much investigation into methods of treating depression among those with Asperger’s specifically.
For that reason, we generally consider treatments individually for each condition. Below are some of the treatments that you may be offered for each mental health issue.
How Do I Know If My Child With Autism Is Depressed
According to research, approximately 20 percent of the population will experience depression at some point in their livesthis statistic increases to almost 60 percent in people with autism spectrum disorder . Mood disorders do tend to be more common in those with developmental disabilities compared to the more general population. However, depression in individuals with autism, especially children, can be difficult to diagnose.
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Emerging Trends In Substance Misuse:
- MethamphetamineIn 2019, NSDUH data show that approximately 2 million people used methamphetamine in the past year. Approximately 1 million people had a methamphetamine use disorder, which was higher than the percentage in 2016, but similar to the percentages in 2015 and 2018. The National Institute on Drug Abuse Data shows that overdose death rates involving methamphetamine have quadrupled from 2011 to 2017. Frequent meth use is associated with mood disturbances, hallucinations, and paranoia.
- CocaineIn 2019, NSDUH data show an estimated 5.5 million people aged 12 or older were past users of cocaine, including about 778,000 users of crack. The CDC reports that overdose deaths involving have increased by one-third from 2016 to 2017. In the short term, cocaine use can result in increased blood pressure, restlessness, and irritability. In the long term, severe medical complications of cocaine use include heart attacks, seizures, and abdominal pain.
- KratomIn 2019, NSDUH data show that about 825,000 people had used Kratom in the past month. Kratom is a tropical plant that grows naturally in Southeast Asia with leaves that can have psychotropic effects by affecting opioid brain receptors. It is currently unregulated and has risk of abuse and dependence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that health effects of Kratom can include nausea, itching, seizures, and hallucinations.
Symptoms Of Autism In Women
- 6 min read
While both men and women can have Autism, the symptoms of Autism in women can be profoundly different from those in men.
Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental disability that appears during early childhood. It can impact a persons social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation.
Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, such as being nonverbal, having atypical speech patterns, restricted and repetitive behavior, patterns, activities, and interests, and preference for sameness and difficulty with transition or routine.
Autism is a spectrum condition, meaning it affects people differently and to varying degrees.
Its important to diagnose a person with Autism early in life so that that can get the resources and care they need to live a fulfilling and healthy life, so its crucial to look out for symptoms.
Additionally, the sex of an Autistic person can affect how symptoms present. Male and female autism share some similarities, but overall, the symptoms of Autism in women tend to present differently than men.
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Supporting Mental Health In Autistic Children
There are several things you can do to help protect your childâs mental health and lower their risk for depression. Preventing depression by safeguarding mental health is important for children with autism.
Early intervention for autism is paramount. The earlier a child is diagnosed and starts treatment, the more likely they are to develop healthy coping skills and habits for socializing and communicating more effectively.
Early treatment for autism can help to improve communication and socialization skills, which can minimize social and personal isolation. This helps an autistic child to better understand and express their thoughts and feelings, thus lowering the risk for anxiety and depression.
Understanding Depression In Autism
Katherine Gotham led a social group for adults with ASD when she was a graduate student in clinical psychology some years ago. Several of the members would “cycle in and out of depressive episodes,” she recalled. “Others struggled with ongoing depression, and of course, others were never depressed throughout the time we knew them.”
At first, she thought that their depression was fueled by problems they had in achieving their goals, such as romantic relationships, jobs, and greater independence goals made more complicated by their ASD. But then something happened that caused her to re-think those assumptions. Her colleagues helped a group member with ASD find a job. Although the man seemed to love the work and liked his co-workers, he became depressed again and had to quit his job. “I realized that maybe the ‘obvious’ reasons weren’t the whole picture in understanding depression in ASD.”
Dr. Gotham is now an assistant professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, and has researched depression in autism. “Years later, I now see that there are likely many reasons for high rates of depression in ASD some psychosocial, others neurobiological and that these potential mechanisms interact with each other in different ways within individual people. So, like most things in science, we’re probably not looking at just one story for why people with ASD become depressed.”
Read Part 2 about depression treatment: Diagnosis: Depression. Now what?
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Treatment Options For Comorbid Autism & Depression
Behavioral therapies are considered the optimal way to manage comorbid autism and depression. These therapies are beneficial in treating both depression and autism separately, and they can also be effectively used when these disorders overlap to treat both at the same time.
Each person is different, and there are varying levels of severity in both autism and depression. A full evaluation is needed so medical and mental health professionals can determine the best treatment approach.
Treatment plans may include:
What Is Samhsa’s National Helpline
SAMHSAs National Helpline, , or TTY: is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.
Also visit the online treatment locator.
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Relationships Between Environment Peer Relations And Self
Negative peer interactions have been shown to exert independent adverse effects on children with high-functioning ASD who are very commonly bullied, teased or ostracized in educational settings., , Peer victimization and depressive symptomatology have been correlated, and observational reports document both social isolation and distress as direct consequences of being bullied in the school environment. Interpersonal conflict with family members has also been strongly associated with depressive symptomatology., Both in family and educational environments, assumptions about the cause of a child’s deviant social behaviors are critical in either buffering or intensifying the response of the environment to those behaviors. There are remarkable anecdotes of positive change in interpersonal relationships and behavior, for example, when the social network surrounding a child with ASD shifts from viewing his/her behaviors as fundamentally âantisocialâ in nature to fundamentally âasocialâ. This is particularly relevant for children with higher-functioning autistic syndromes who have never been diagnosed, and for whom the assumption of caregivers over years of time has been that the child is engaging in willful violations of social norms.
What Are Typical Symptoms Of Depression
While occasional sadness is a normal part of life, persistent sadness can be a sign of depression. Other common signs and symptoms of depression can be grouped into thinking patterns, changes in behavior, and physical symptoms. Common thinking patterns seen in depression include guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness, excessive worrying, and thoughts of death or dying. Behavioral changes include social withdrawal, increased irritability, and decreased interest in preferred activities. Physical symptoms include appetite changes, sleep problems, and low energy.
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The Deep Emotional Ties Between Depression And Autism
Autistic people are four times as likely to experience depression over the course of their lives as their neurotypical peers. Yet researchers know little about why, or how best to help.
In June, Nicholas Lyons graduated from a private special-education high school in Maryland. Like many of his classmates, he is unsure what he is going to do next. His mother, Kelly Lyons, is worried, too but more about his health than his plans: At 18, Nicholas has already endured several bouts of depression, one of which drove him to contemplate suicide.
Nicholas was diagnosed with autism at age 9. By 12, the socially awkward, bright boy was in therapy for depression, too. He was made fun of because he was different. He was smart enough to know that, his mother says. It posed a real problem.
At 13, Nicholas mood plummeted further. He disengaged from everyday activities, such as talking with his family at dinner and playing video games, and he began sleeping a lot common signs of depression. His mother increased his therapy sessions from once to twice a week. Meanwhile, his social problems only grew worse. The autism caused me to take insults a lot. The insults were harsh, Nicholas says. Sometimes the kids made me angry. Sometimes it really annoyed me. The insults made me sad sometimes.
In truth, we know alarmingly little about depression and autism. Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele
Relationships Between Severity Of Asd Insight Age And Iq To Depression In Youth With Asd
Data regarding a significant relationship between age and depression has been less conclusive. It is well known that in typically developing children the incidence of depression increases in adolescence, and this has been postulated to occur in youth with autism spectrum disorders as well. No study has directly compared rates of depression between children and adolescents controlling for ASD severity, but several have suggested a lack of association between prevalence and age,, , Vickerstaff et al. postulated that emotional age likely has more influence than chronological age on the development of depression.
While increased capacity for adaptive functioning has been associated with higher rates of depression, it has also been theorized that increased severity of autism spectrum disorders may itself be associated with greater vulnerability to stressors and thus psychopathology., , Pearson et al. found that children with autism had more severe symptoms of depression, social withdraw and atypical behaviors than did children with Pervasive Developmental Disorder â Not Otherwise Specified , although both groups had elevated rates of clinically significant depressive syndromes. Interestingly, these results were unchanged when intelligence was controlled for, leading the authors to suggest that diagnostic subgroups on the autism spectrum might independently predict differing risks for the development of depression and other psychiatric comorbidities.
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Tips For Preventing & Minimizing Depression With Autism
When an autistic child is feeling stressed or anxious, this often comes out in temper tantrums or outward signs of aggression or self-harm. The same can be true for depression, but depressive symptoms may be less obvious.
Autistic children often prefer to be left alone and would rather play by themselves than with others. This does not necessarily mean that they are depressed. However, socialization and healthy relationships are important to a childâs mental health. Itâs important to foster connections between autistic children and others, to prevent potential onset of depression.
Therapies for both autism and depression can teach healthy ways to express oneself and better techniques for socializing, communicating, and sustaining relationships. At home, parents and other family members can reinforce what is learned in therapy sessions and provide opportunities to practice new skills in a safe space.
There are additional measures you can take as a parent to minimize the chances of depression in children with autism.
Why Is It So Difficult To Diagnose Depression
children with autism dont always show a lot of emotion on their faces in the same way children without autism do. Leo Kanner, a psychiatrist and researcher in childhood autism, suggests that there is a disturbance in the affective contact. This means that the affect being used to describe an individuals emotional state may not always entirely match their mood . This does not mean that a child is depressed. However, it does mean that the expression on his/her face may not always match the emotion. This can make it really hard to even suspect that the child has depression. Another hurdle that clinicians may come across during diagnosis is that some children with ASD may have limited or no speech capability.
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Having Asd Increases The Risk Of Depression In Teens But Effective Treatments Are Available
Fortunately, there are many treatments available for depression. A comprehensive treatment approach for depression can address home, social, and educational stressors, and may include lifestyle changes, talk therapy, and medications. General lifestyle strategies that can enhance resilience and mental wellness include regular exercise, adequate sleep, good nutrition, and helping your teenager problem-solve stressful situations.
Because many teenagers with ASD dislike change, they may resist these lifestyle changes. Two types of talk therapies which have been demonstrated to be effective for treating depression in teenagers with ASD include cognitive behavioral therapy and behavioral activation . CBT focuses on helping change unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviors to improve mood BA improves mood by helping a person plan enjoyable activities to increase opportunities for positive experiences.
Although teenagers and young adults with ASD may be at higher risk for depression, it is a treatable condition with many treatment options to help build resilience, decrease the severity of symptoms, and restore quality of life.
How Do Asperger’s And Depression Relate
Now that we understand what is meant by Asperger’s, we can consider how it relates to depression.
For reference, a depressive episode typically consists of the following types of symptoms over a two-week period that cause an impairment in normal daily functioning:
- Feeling sad or hopeless, guilty, or worthless
- Losing interest in things you usually like to do
- Noticing changes in your appetite
- Losing weight or gaining weight without explanation
- Feeling like you can’t concentrate or focus on anything
- Having low energy or fatigue
- Sleep disturbance
While we know that Asperger’s and depression tend to co-occur, it can be hard to diagnose depression in someone with Asperger’s because of an overlap of symptoms.
For example, a person with Asperger’s may have flat affect, meaning that they appear to be sad or down. However, this affective state may not match what they feel on the inside rather, they might actually feel normal or like nothing is wrong. The issue is that their outward state doesn’t match what they feel on the inside.
In addition, a person with Asperger’s might naturally withdraw from social situations because they are made difficult due to symptoms of autism. This is different from someone who withdraws due to feeling depressed.
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Signs Of Depression In Autism
Spotting depression in someone with autism can be challenging. Many individuals with autism show little facial emotion. For many, this does not mean that they are depressed. However, this can make it more difficult to recognize depression in someone living with autism. In addition, many individuals with autism struggle with speech, so they may not verbally express how they feel. This makes depression among those with autism hard to diagnose.
That is why its important to recognize red flags in loved ones with autism. Look for changes in mood or behavior, such as changes in sleep and appetite. Since many of the symptoms of depression overlap with autism, such as social withdrawal, reduced motivation, low energy, and a reduced desire to communicate with others, its important to look for deviations from ones regular patterns.
Emotional Regulation Issues Are A Major Symptom Of Autism In Women
Researchers have found that there is a poor connection between the frontal cortex and the amygdala in people with Autism.
Because of this, they may find it hard to rationalize situations and stay in emotional control. Meltdowns may occur, which are extreme emotional reactions to situations that might result in losing their temper, crying, or going into shutdown mode.
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Camouflaging A More Pronounced Symptom Of Autism In Women
Researchers have also found that women and girls are more likely to camouflage or hide their symptoms of Autism.
While men may do this as well, it is more common to happen in women, particularly among females at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Common forms of camouflaging include:
- forcing yourself to make eye contact during conversations
- preparing jokes or phrases ahead of time to use in conversation
- mimicking the social behavior of others
- imitating expressions and gestures