Behavioral Health News: Co-Occurring Conditions in Mild Autism Spectrum Disorder

Co-occurring mental health conditions are the rule rather than the exception in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Behavioral Health News - January 2018.jpgOriginally published in Behavioral Health News, Winter 2018
Elizabeth Roberts, PsyD
Director of Clinical Support Services, CIP

A full 70% of individuals with ASD have one co-occuring condition and 40% have two or more (Siminoff et all, 2008). Living with autism is a journey, and in talking to families, I often rely on a travel metaphor in describing ASD as “carrying suitcases.” This word picture helps families understand that ASD is the central condition, in dynamic interplay with others, and sets the stage for an integrated, multi-pronged approach to intervention.

Estimating the prevalence of co-occurring conditions in adults with mild ASD is complicated by the heterogeneity of ASD the condition and ASD research itself. Also until recently, subgroups of adults, females, and individuals with milder forms of ASD received much less attention. Research1 has identified the following prevalence rates for the most commonly occurring disorders: Anxiety, 40-80%; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), 37-85%; Depression, 26%; Mood disorder, 52%; and Suicidality, 66%. Other conditions or problematic behaviors that co-occur less frequently2 but require consideration when treating adults with mild ASD include: Psychosis; Schizophrenia; Gender dysphoria; Trauma; Excessive electronic gaming; and Learning disabilities in reading comprehension and compositional writing.

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1(Cassidy et al., 2014, Croen et al., 2015, Hofvander et al., 2009, Leitner, 2014, Leyfer et al., 2006, Muris et al., 1998, Si-monoff et al., 2008; van Steensel et al., 2011) 

2(Cacola, Miller, & Williamson, 2017, Croen et al., 2015, De Vries et al., 2010, Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2017, Hofvender et al., 2009, MacMullin et al., 2016)

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The College Internship Program is a comprehensive transition program for young adults on the Autism Spectrum and with Learning Differences. Our Mission is to inspire independence and expand the foundation on which young adults with Autism, ADHD, and other Learning Differences can build happy and productive lives.