DEPRESSION & AUTISM SPECTRUM
Adults on the autism spectrum can be prone to depression
and other mental health problems such as anxiety
disorders, especially in late adolescence and their twenties.
But these adults often have trouble communicating these feelings
of disturbance, anxiety or distress and it is common for these to
go undiagnosed until the effects are very evident.
It is important that any health professional involved is familiar
syndrome and other Autism Spectrum Disorders, and is familiar
with the person's style of communication. This is where partners
or family members can help by providing the health professional
with examples of how the person's behavior and emotional state have
Why is depression common with autism and Asperger's syndrome?
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.
Signs and Symptoms
The common signs and symptoms of depression include
• Mood e.g. extreme sadness, despair, flat emotional reactions and
• Changes in thinking patterns e.g. a sense of hopelessness, pessimistic
• Behavioral changes e.g. reduced attention to physical appearance,
• Physical symptoms e.g. sleep disturbance, appetite changes, tiredness.
People’s experience of depression usually occurs on a continuum
ranging from very mild to very severe. The most important consideration
is therefore the severity of the person’s depression and how long
it lasts. Many people are able to self-manage their depression using
strategies. Other people require psychological support or other
forms of treatment from professionals.
Personal Strategies for Coping with Depression
The following strategies have been suggested by
people with acquired brain injury and may be useful.
• Having a nap
• Listening to music
• Watching television
• Working on a personal project
• Walking or other exercise
• Mental stimulation
• Scheduling activities and making short-term plans
• Self-Talk or thought challenging.]
Self-Talk is a useful technique for modifying
inaccurate and upsetting thoughts. It requires the practiced art
of replacing upsetting thoughts with constructive explanations.
For example instead of thinking, “I'm useless and I never get anything
right,” the person can replace their thoughts with a constructive
explanation such as, “I need to learn more about reading other people's
body language, I'll do better next time.”
Treatment Approaches for Depression
This form of treatment is usually most effective
with mild or moderate to severe forms of depression. In general,
people with very severe forms of depression will require other interventions
e.g. hospitalization or medication. After a person’s state of mind
has improved they may be more likely to benefit from psychological
support to further reduce symptoms and provide ongoing management.
Medication is often used in association with psychological
therapy for the person with depression who does not respond well
to psychological therapy. Medication
may help to relieve depression by adjusting the chemical levels
in the brain. Depression is often caused by an excess or a deficiency
of particular chemicals in the brain. Such chemicals are created
naturally within our bodies and affect our moods, thinking, behavior,
sleep, energy levels, appetite, concentration and other daily functions.
In cases of depression, a doctor may suggest medication to address
any chemical deficiency that may exist.
The choice of medication depends upon a range of considerations
• Side effects
• The person’s previous response to medication
• Interaction with other medication being taken
• Safety in overdose.
take about two weeks before a person will notice any change in mental
and physical state. Medication needs to be trialed for at least
four to six weeks and should generally be taken for approximately
six to twelve months even if the person feels better after a few
months. People are advised to see a general practitioner or psychiatrist
to discuss issues relating to medication.
Given the many difficulties faced by adults on
the autism spectrum, feeling suicidal can occur when problems
mount up. It is crucial to look for support or see a doctor during
this periods as appropriate support will normally allow the person
to get through these deep depressive episodes.
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