For years, families and professionals have noticed higher levels of depressive symptoms in many teens on the autism spectrum. This makes sense because many of these young people have limited social interactions, spend a greater amount of time alone, and feel higher degrees of social anxiety than their peers. A new study out of Vanderbilt University confirms these concerns. Dr. Katherine Gotham, director of the study, concludes that “sadness, irritability or aggressive behavior, lack of interest or pleasure in things that a child typically enjoys – these can all represent something beyond ‘just autism’ or ‘teenage moodiness.’ A noticeable intensification of special interest or a switch to focus on ‘dark’ topics can likewise be warning signs of depression.” One implication of this important new study is to screen for depression in teenagers on the autism spectrum. This should be done by a qualified evaluator who understands the “typical” communication and social interaction patterns of people with autism, which can mimic depression in several ways.
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