Autism & Mood Disorders

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A study from the University of Washington has found that children diagnosed with autism and mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder) tend to have “increased levels of excitability” at a young age. They also showed signs of social isolation in their teenage years. The findings are significant because they suggest early intervention can lead to lower rates of mental illness and anxiety later on in life

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the way an individual communicates, relates to others and experiences the world. It is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. Autism can also be accompanied by mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. Read more in detail here: autism in adults.


Autism spectrum disorder is a kind of developmental illness distinct from anxiety disorders and mood disorders such as depression and Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects both men and women These additional illnesses may emerge in people who are on the autistic spectrum. Autism, in fact, may enhance their chances of having these conditions.

Treatment for those with autism and mood problems that co-occur may be difficult. Standard medication and psychotherapy may be rendered useless or even hazardous in the context of autism. Clinicians are testing therapy techniques that combine the best of traditional mood problem treatments with well-known autism therapies.

What Are Mood Disorders and How Do They Affect You?

Mood disorders are a general term for a variety of mental health conditions that disrupt emotional balance and control. This may manifest as extended periods of unwavering despair (the depressed stage), impulsive and unstable joy (the manic stage), or a combination of the two. Because they represent the two extremes, depression and mania are regarded as the two poles of mood disorders.

Only depression occurs in some patients, which is known as unipolar disorder. Bipolar disorders, on the other hand, are characterized by phases of sadness, mania, and euthymia (a relatively stable period where the person is neither manic nor depressive).

Mood problems come in a variety of forms. Among them are the following:

  • Major depressive disorder is a mental illness that affects many people.
  • Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects both men and women
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that occurs throughout the
  • Depression as a result of a medical condition.
  • Depression caused by drug addiction, medicine, or both.

Although anxiety’s symptoms and consequences might overlap and occur at the same time, it is not often thought of as a mood condition. Anxiety disorders have their own classification. Here are a few examples:

  • Anxiety condition that affects the whole body.
  • Panic disorder is a kind of anxiety condition.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that occurs after a severe
  • Anxiety about social situations.
  • Anxiety caused by drug addiction, medicine, or both.

Autism & Mood Disorders

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had a greater chance of developing mood disorders and anxiety, according to a research published in the Pediatrics journal in 2018. Children with co-occurring ASD and ADHD were 2.7 times more likely to develop mood problems, according to the study’s findings. “Mood disturbances are quite common in people with ASD,” stated the study’s main author.

The Pediatrics study is an addition to a large body of research that has found that autism spectrum disorder has overlapping features with mood disorders. For example, a study in 2008 published in Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health reported that as many as 27% of children with autism spectrum disorder display symptoms of Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects both men and women

But Autism Speaks notes that bipolar disorder and autism have a number of common symptoms and behaviors, which leads some children with ASD to be mistakenly diagnosed with Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects both men and women In reality, their symptoms are the result of their autism.

Bipolar Disorder & Autism

Genetic features have been connected to bipolar illness. A person with a family member who suffers from bipolar disorder or depression has a greater risk of having one or both of these disorders than someone who does not have such a history.

Similarly, hereditary factors have a role in the development of autism, albeit the extent to which they do so is unknown. Some of the genes associated to the development of bipolar illness may also be linked to the development of autistic spectrum disorders, according to a 2016 JAMA Psychiatry paper. This might explain why patients with ASD are more likely to exhibit signs of bipolar illness, and why some diagnoses mix up the two disorders.

It’s likely that an autistic person with bipolar illness will have both disorders present at the same time, with different symptoms than if each disease was present alone.

While depressive behavior is very distinct from some of the symptoms of autism, mania can be much harder to recognize in someone who has autism. A sudden or dramatic shift of behaviors may be the result of mania. Otherwise, if the behaviors have been constant and somewhat predictable since the autism presented itself, the likelihood is stronger that the symptoms are more rooted in the autism than they are in Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects both men and women

Anxiety Disorder & Autism

Anxiety disorder is not a “core component” of autism spectrum disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, but it is a highly prevalent comorbid condition among persons with autism. Up to 40% of persons with autism spectrum disorder will have “clinically high anxiety levels.” They may develop at least one anxiety condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, in the future.

The ADAA advises that anxiety may have a significant impact on the course of ASD, making it difficult to manage repetitive behaviors and social disengagement. Untreated anxiety disorder in ASD has also been related to depression and self-injury, among other mood and behavioral issues. This makes early detection and treatment critical for clients’ safety as well as their long-term treatment prognosis.

Many of the symptoms of anxiety disorder and autism spectrum condition overlap, according to the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry, making early detection difficult. Anxiety frequently manifests itself in a variety of ways at various times, often in response to varying environmental and contextual pressures.

  • Phobias: Due to over-responsiveness to sensory input, such as a loud noise, a particular fear (one that provides little to no actual risk) might emerge early in the course of autism spectrum disease. These particular phobias tend to entail uncommon stimuli, such as a vacuum cleaner or a toilet flushing, in individuals who have both ASD and anxiety. They may also be centered on phobias that are more often linked to everyday stimuli, such as spiders or darkness.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by obsessive activities that are triggered by intrusive thoughts. According to the ADAA, “OCD is often associated with ASD,” making it critical to recognize obsessive-compulsive disorder among autistic people. ASD’s repeated behaviors are unrelated to discomfort, yet compulsive activities are carried out to alleviate worry.
  • As a person gets older and their surroundings becomes more demanding, social anxiety might become more prevalent. Inability to communicate may cause social anxiety, which can be worsened if the individual has high-functioning autism. They are more conscious of their social restrictions at this stage on the spectrum, which may be a significant cause of worry. Avoidance of social settings is a result of social anxiety (the great dread of being humiliated or “found out” in a social context). As a result, the person’s chances of exercising social skills are reduced, which increases anxiety levels when they are forced to participate in social activities. Autism spectrum illness and social anxiety are quite different, but yet very similar, according to Psychology Today.
  • Separation anxiety: As a result of the social impairment indicated above, parents may overcompensate by “protecting” their children to the point that their children unknowingly develop prohibitive levels of avoidance behavior. When a parent and kid must separate (for example, when the youngster has depart for college), separation anxiety might arise.

Other atypical anxiety symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder include extreme tension caused by any change in their daily routine or living environment.

Treating Comorbid Autism & Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety may be treated apart from autism, but therapies must be tailored to meet the requirements of autistic people in order to optimize benefits while minimizing negative effects.

For example, in the general population, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are frequently the first line of pharmaceutical therapy for anxiety and associated mood disorders. The use of SSRIs in persons with autism, on the other hand, is linked to a low rate of efficacy and a high incidence of side effects.

Similarly, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychotherapy method, is a well-established treatment for anxiety and associated mood disorders, but persons on the autistic spectrum will find it difficult to vocally describe their emotions.

With autistic individuals who are high-functioning and have adequate language abilities, CBT may continue to be useful. CBT’s strategy of teaching clients about anxiety, establishing ways to comprehend negative thought patterns and enhance high-level thinking, and coming up with behavioral solutions to manage an anxiety attack may be beneficial to them.

Individuals with autism who benefit from CBT will need a highly tailored form of the treatment, similar to pharmaceutical therapies, in order to manage their comorbid autism and anxiety.

Depression & Autism

“Major depression is not uncommon for those on the (autism) spectrum,” according to Spectrum News.

The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology analyzed 66 research and showed that children on the autism spectrum are four times more likely than persons who are not on the spectrum (or “neurotypicals”) to suffer depression throughout their lives. There is no unanimity on why this is the case, as there is with other mood disorders.

Doctors have discovered that depression rates in youngsters on the autistic spectrum seem to rise with age. They are more prevalent in those with a high-functioning type of autism. Over 70% of children with autism experience mental health issues, such as sadness and anxiety, and these issues tend to remain and worsen throughout adulthood.

There are currently no research available on the best screening techniques for detecting comorbid autism and depression, and there is no recognized medication to help persons on the spectrum cope with depression. Doctors are unable to predict whether an autistic person with depression would react to psychotherapy differently than a neurotypical person with depression.

Similarly, no study has been done to discover the best method to modify typical depression therapies for autistic persons, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Given that one of the hallmarks of autism is that individuals have difficulty with social communication and understanding their emotions, talk therapy is unlikely to be effective for persons with ASD and depression.

Furthermore, the impact of antidepressant medicines on persons with autism is uncertain. Psychiatrists are concerned that such medications would have unforeseen adverse effects, complicating the autism management process. Children with autism have been reported to have their sleep cycles disrupted by antidepressants, making them even more impulsive.

How Do Comorbid Depression & Autism Develop?

One of the roadblocks has been the difficulty in pinpointing the core causes of comorbid autism and depression. Despite the fact that the disorders’ comorbidity is extensively known, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology told Spectrum News that “we know disturbingly little about depression and autism.”

What is known is that depression is caused by a mix of hereditary and environmental variables in neurotypical persons. Similar circumstances may contribute to the development of depression in certain autistic persons. According to a 2018 research published in the journal Psychiatry, neurotypical siblings of persons with autism had a 40% higher risk of depression than the general population, suggesting a genetic link.

According to JAMA Psychiatry, depression is caused by isolation, social challenges, or being bullied because of their autism. People on the spectrum who are lonely have the greatest chance of getting depression, according to statistics. Loneliness is a major contributor to depression, and autism may make it difficult for persons with autism to establish friends and create a support network.

Furthermore, rumination — the need to continuously dwell about unpleasant events, ideas, and emotions — may lead to a depressive episode in certain persons on the autistic spectrum. This may aggravate the symptoms of autism, leading to a worsening of sadness.

Because the two comorbid disorders are so intertwined, many individuals with autism never obtain a diagnosis of depression and never get the assistance they need. Because depression is an internalizing condition, many physicians and therapists will overlook the subtle indicators of depression in persons with autism (characterized by feelings that happen internally). A person with autism will have a difficult time articulating or communicating their interior emotions.

Further muddying the waters is the fact that certain depression symptoms, such as social withdrawal, are often misdiagnosed as autistic symptoms. Children with melancholy and autism “display a spectrum of warning symptoms,” according to a physician in New York, but there is no pattern by which to identify such kids.

Treating Comorbid Autism & Depression

When choosing the best strategy to treat persons on the autistic spectrum who also have depression, doctors must make tough judgments. Children with autism, for example, have a higher chance of suffering unpleasant side effects (such as aggressiveness, hyperactivity, and agitation) when they take antidepressants, according to the Evidence-Based Child Health journal.

Most clinicians who treat autistic people who have been diagnosed with depression will utilize customized kinds of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to assist their patients change their negative thinking patterns. Because the procedure has shown to be beneficial in treating anxiety in autistic patients, there is optimism that it will also work for autistic people with depression. However, there is no evidence on how effective this approach is yet. At the very least, physicians remain upbeat, thinking that “CBT is unlikely to cause real damage in the [autistic] population when used to treat depression.”

The foundations of autism therapy, such as keeping to a regular schedule and structure for sessions, verbalizing treatment ideas often, and utilizing visual aids, worksheets, and other tools to assist a client deal with more abstract topics, may still be employed with CBT. Therapists may also use mindfulness training to assist autistic clients concentrate on and develop their emotional awareness in their sessions, which can help them focus on and improve their emotional awareness.

What Role Can Parents Play?

Raising an autistic kid may be very difficult for any parent. It might seem difficult at times to raise a kid with a comorbid mental condition. There are, however, strategies and tools that parents may and should use in order to optimize the advantages of their kid’s treatment and offer their child the best opportunity of managing their difficulties.

What are you able to perform to assist your child? Even though it may seem difficult at first, Autism Speaks recommends that you “bring your kid out in the community.” Encouraging your kid to interact with others might help them develop important abilities. Socialization may serve as a protective shield against emotions of loneliness and isolation, which can lead to depression.

Providing your kid with a variety of interests and pleasurable pastimes can help them develop a feeling of self-worth and enjoyment. This is crucial for the development of excellent mental health.

Participate as much as you can in your child’s schooling and mental health treatment. Learn as much as you can about their instructors, therapists, and technicians. This will help you to provide continuity of care at home, making the transition from educational and therapeutic facilities to the home environment simpler for your kid. Because ABA treatment is often provided in the comfort of your own home, the transition might be much smoother.

Get to know the parents of autistic children. It’s just as vital for you to know other individuals in similar circumstances as it is for your kid to have a community and support network. These parents understand what you’re going through, and you can rely on one another for assistance when you need it. They may be able to refer you to reputable behavior therapists and technologists.

Public institutions, community centers, houses of worship, and local school systems are all good places to look for local (and remote) support groups. Advocacy groups, evaluation clinics, and intervention programs are generally included in schools and community organizations. They may also put you in touch with training and research organizations.

All of information will aid in your learning and comprehension of autism and autism-related topics. As a result, you’ll be in a better position to assist your kid.


Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the brain. It is characterized by difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and imagination. The symptoms of autism vary widely from one person to another. Reference: autism in children.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 5 main symptoms of autism?

-Early speech delay or difficulty speaking in sentences.
-Unusual, intense responses to sensory input – especially visual stimulation. This can include extreme sensitivity to light and sound as well as a lack of ability for eye contact with others during social interactions. A person on the autism spectrum may be unable to detect emotions in facial expressions because they struggle with understanding what is going on around them, such as seeing someones eyes move from one object to another without actually reading their face properly when talking about it later or asking questions related to feelings and their experience at parties .
-Difficulty regulating emotion including overreacting emotionally sometimes even laughing inappropriately (i.e., causing anxiety) which causes further distress that would not have occurred if they had better emotional regulation skills; this includes being oversensitive too easily and feeling overwhelmed by loud noises like music playing nearby

What is an autistic person like?

A: An autistic person is an individual that has difficulties in social interaction and forms of communication. They may also have a highly sensitive nervous system which often leads to high levels of anxiety and stress, or they might be prone to sensory overload disorder.

What are the 3 main characteristics of autism?

A: The three main characteristics of autism are social impairment, communication problems, and repetitive behaviours.

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