18 Apr


By Lirio S Covey, Ph.D.

The rate of depression was higher in young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than in same-aged persons in the general population.

In a population-based study of young adults conducted in Sweden, the prevalence of depression was significantly higher in those with autism than in the age-comparable general population. By age 27, almost 20% (19.8%) of persons with ASD had received a diagnosis of depression compared to only 6.0% in the general population.

The study data were collected from total population registries, in this case, of children born between January 2001 and December 2011; they were followed up to the age of 27 years.

The prevalence of depression was also higher in non-autistic siblings of the index person with ASD than in the general population, a finding compatible with the putative effect of familial liability, including genetic factors, on risk for ASD. Indicating more than familial liability, that is, factors specific to ASD, the rate of depression was still higher in the index autistic person than in the non-autistic sibling.

Further, within the autistic group, the rate of depression was higher among those without intellectual disability (24%) than in those with intellectual disability (9%). A partial explanation for the difference could be that depressive symptoms were not well-recognized among those with intellectual disability and related conditions.

The researchers also noted that ascertainment of ASD after the onset of depression occurred in as many as half of the ASD individuals possibly because more attention was paid to the depressive symptoms. This delay is clinically relevant in that the masking of ASD symptoms could exacerbate the impairments due to ASD and limit access to interventions known to improve quality of life for persons with ASD.

A further implication of the observed relationship in this study of young adults is that the underlying presence of ASD should be considered when symptoms of depression are reported.


Dheeraj Rai, MRCPsych, PhD; Hein Heuvelman, MSc, PhD; Christina Dalman, MD, PhD; Iryna Culpin, MSc, PhD; Michael Lundberg, MPH; Peter Carpenter, MBChB, FRCPsych; Cecilia Magnusson, MD, PhD. Association Between Autism Spectrum Disorders With or

Without Intellectual Disability and Depression in Young Adulthood. August 31, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.1465

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