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Link Between ASD and Depression: A Call for Intervention

Updated: Mar 28, 2020

The aim of this research paper was to investigate whether or not individual characteristics (specifically the severity of ASD symptoms among other cognitive characteristics) are associated with the occurrence of depression in adults with autism spectrum disorder. Researchers in this study tried to identify vulnerability factors that may contribute to the development of depressive symptoms by studying forty-six adults with ASD. They found that individuals with lesser social impairment, higher cognitive ability, and higher rates of other psychiatric symptoms were more likely to demonstrate depressive symptoms.

The study investigated several individual characteristics associated with depression in adults with ASD. Researchers' analysis revealed that 43% endorsed significant levels of depressive symptoms, and these individuals scored higher on the WAIS and had lesser impaired social functioning according to the ADOS. A total of 20 out of 46 participants in the researchers’ study endorsed depressive symptoms whereas only 13 endorsed anxiety related symptoms, which led the authors to conclude the evident prevalence of depression in individuals with ASD. This finding shows that greater social skills were associated with the having depressive symptoms in adults with ASD. Researchers in this study proposed that the perception of dissimilarity between oneself and others may be related to depressive symptoms in high functioning individuals with ASD. Expectations to perform socially a certain level may be stressful and more difficult to achieve. Furthermore, these individuals may show more interest in social relationships and interactions. However, they may not have the skills necessary to communicate successful relations. These failed attempts and repeated rejections, with lack of perceived understanding could also lead to the development of depressive symptoms, according to the authors. The study also proposes that the stress received during the transition to adulthood may contribute to the difficulties that the individuals with ASD is facing. Negative social experiences and peer rejection that has built up can impact the feelings of depression. The individuals who exhibit depressive symptoms in the study also were more likely to have symptoms of general anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which affirms the general known fact that depression, anxiety, and OCD are highly co-morbid in the general population.

Some of the key strengths of the article was that the authors mention the drawbacks of its own study by explaining that a more sophisticated understanding of how psychiatric conditions coexist with ASD, how they are expressed in individuals, and how factors such as genetic, environmental, and family associated with the developing the symptoms are needed to be explained by further scientific research. Another strength of this paper is that it draws upon research from other literature and clearly explains how each study is related to or supports the study's findings. Although the authors’ own research is well supported by data that shows statistical significance, the research that authors mentions and draws upon to support certain hypotheses and notions are not well backed by evidence. This may be the compromise of researching psychological disorders in adults with ASD as the authors mentions that there is a lack of understanding when diagnosing other psychological disorders in individuals with ASD.

This paper stresses the importance of shifting broadening the primary focus of screening ASD to encompass psychiatric conditions which may compromise the functioning and quality of life. Depression, mania, aggression, specific phobia, and generalized anxiety are only a few of the psychological disorders that often coexist in individuals with ASD. Future research should focus on better understanding the psychiatric conditions, like depression, that may coincide with ASD so that the medical field may see an improvement in the accuracy of diagnosis and vulnerability factors.

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