Monday, June 18, 2018

Autistic Traits Associated With Elevated Depression in Youth Aged 10 to 18

At age 10, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those with high levels of autistic traits have more depressive symptoms than children in the general population, reports a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. These elevated depressive symptoms persist in the children until they are 18 and are significantly influenced by bullying.

“[F]urther research into the role of traumatic experiences, such as bullying, and the utility of interventions to reduce bullying or address its adverse effects could have the potential to reduce the burden of depression in this population,” wrote lead author Dheeraj Rai, Ph.D., of the University of Bristol and colleagues. 

For this study, Rai and colleagues assessed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALPSAC), which tracked over 15,000 children born in the Bristol area between 1990 and 1992 and their parents until the children turned 18. As part of ALSPAC, investigators conducted periodic clinical assessments and had parents and children complete self-report questionnaires for a range of behavioral issues, including ASD and depression.

The final dataset for the study included 8,087 children. Of this group, 96 children were diagnosed with ASD, 546 had social communication impairments, 526 had problems with speech coherence, 419 displayed repetitive behaviors, and 801 had poor social temperament.

Children with ASD or any of the four autistic traits had higher depressive symptom scores than the general population at age 10, as assessed by the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ). The SMFQ scores continued to rise over time, though by age 18 only those with social communication impairments had a significantly higher rate of diagnosed depression than the youth in the general population (1.68 times the risk).

At age 10, the children with ASD and autistic traits who reported being bullied had the highest average SMFQ scores; likewise, youth with social communication impairments who reported being bullied in childhood or adolescence were more likely to have a diagnosis of depression at age 18.

“These findings add to the evidence highlighting a higher burden of depression and also suggest a potentially modifiable pathway, through bullying,” Rai and colleagues wrote. “However, gaps remain in our understanding of the measurement and phenomenology of depression in individuals with autism, which could be a priority for future research. Further work could also focus on improvements in psychological and pharmacological management of depression in ASD.”

To read more about this topic, see the Psychiatric News article, "Social Skills Therapy for ASD Shows Modest Benefits in Routine Settings."

(iStock/Aleksander Rybin)


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