Mental health challenges across the lifespan sparks new intervention possibilities

The high rate of mental health disorders in both children and adults with ASD means that a large percentage of this population and their families are burdened with enormous challenges Training community providers to deliver mental health interventions shows promise for alleviating these comorbidities. Clinicians need to be on the lookout for these psychiatric issues so people with autism receive the much-needed services they deserve.

While the core symptoms of ASD often lead to challenges in daily functioning, across the lifetime and spectrum of many individuals with ASD, co-occurring mental health conditions are a huge concern. Several older but smaller international studies provide a wide range of estimates of the prevalence of co-occurring conditions. A met- analysis and systematic review of these studies conducted in 2019 has helped to decipher the findings20. The findings revealed 28% comorbidity of ADHD (higher in kids than adults), 20% for anxiety disorders, 11% for depression and 9% for obsessive-compulsive disorder20. There is even overlap in brain based profiles of different diagnoses, both in terms of genetic activity21and structure22. These mental health issues, particularly anxiety, can lead to an acute crisis requiring hospitalization23. Unfortunately, clinicians have limited knowledge and understanding of the nature of these mental health conditions in ASD24, making intervention difficult. However, ASD researchers have had luck training community mental health providers to deliver interventions focused on addressing these mental health challenges25. Training community based providers is a move in a promising direction, allowing more people to receive services in a variety of settings, but the efficacy of these interventions still lags behind those delivered in clinics26. Understanding the high co-occurrence of mental health issues helps families and individuals both plan for later health care needs and anticipate potential mental health problems before they occur.

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