Does Autism Affect Mental Health
Many of those who do not have autism, or know someone who does or does not have any mental health conditions, tend to think these are the same. Autism and mental health conditions or mental illness are not the same at all. Still, the question remains; does one influence the other? ABA therapy, meaning Applied Behavior Analysis or behavioral engineering is a form of therapy used for autistic patients, but not solely for people living with autism. If one therapy can be used for more than one condition, do the two conditions interact at all? Let’s take a closer look at the scientific evidence.
What Is Autism?
Let us first define autism. No two cases are exactly the same; their needs will vary from full-time care to simply needing a little extra time to understand and accept new concepts. All autistic people do share certain traits:
- Difficulty expressing feelings or understanding those of others
- An aversion to overstimulation like crowds of bright lights
- Preferring routine to change
- Extreme focus on hobbies or interests
- Taking extra time to accept and grasp new information
What Are Mental Health Issues?
Mental health issues are as diverse as any other set of diseases or conditions. These can range from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD to eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychosis, and schizophrenia. Some conditions require permanent hospitalization, while others can be managed by medication or therapy sessions.
Does Autism Affect Mental Health?
While it is possible to have autism alone, with no mental health conditions, research shows that seven out of ten people on the autism spectrum also have a mental health condition. Most often, this is either depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. While there has been little research done regarding this correlation, some doctors have the following ideas.
This tendency towards depression, anxiety, OCD, or ADHD may be because those with autism already struggle to make sense of the world around them and to fit into it. Those on the spectrum might also face delays in getting other conditions diagnosed as autism might look like the only issue on the surface. It has been proven that people with autism who are revealed to have mental health conditions are more likely to face discrimination and much less likely to find support tailored to their needs. Group therapies that may work for these mental health conditions may not be suitable for those on the spectrum, and since therapists have not been trained on how to work with autistic patients with mental health issues, it may be a struggle for both parties.
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If either you or a loved one feel that they have a mental health condition as well as autism, you should seek help immediately. A good place to start is by talking to a trusted doctor and letting them know how you feel. The most likely case is that your doctor will initially refer you to a therapist for talking therapy. If you think that this therapist does not have sufficient experience with autistic people, search the National Autistic Society’s database for one who seems like a better fit. You may be prescribed medication for a mental health condition; we advise you to ask as many questions as you need about the medication’s side effects and interactions before you agree to take it. You may be referred to a psychiatrist if the therapist sees a need.
Looking After Yourself
There are many ways that those with autism can help to manage their own mental health.
- Stay active. Take walks, stick to your exercise routine if you have one, and get outdoors into nature.
- Understand your own concerns. There are many things for people to worry about these days: the future, war, and violent crime, for instance. If you are feeling concerned, take some time alone or with a loved one to break those concerns down and try to get to the root of the overwhelming feeling of worry.
- Create a routine. Sticking to a routine will help your mind feel organized. Making a plan for the day or night will stop you from feeling listless or at a loose end.
- Limit news intake. As we mentioned, there are a lot of disturbing things out there. So do not consume too much doom and gloom news. Stay informed, but don’t oversaturate your mind.
- Connect with your peers. Spend time with others if your condition allows for that. Meet with peers and friends and just have a little fun.
- Eat well and drink enough water. Neither your body nor your mind can function well without the proper fuel.
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Though our understanding of the correlation between mental health and autism is not yet where we hope it will one day be, these points might help anyone with both conditions understand themselves a little better.
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