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Report reveals mental health conditions alarmingly high in children with autism

Child in sensory stimulating room, interacting with colored lights bubble tube lamp

Around 78% of children with autism have at least one mental health condition, and nearly half have two mental health conditions or more, according to a study. 

The study from UBC’s department of psychology and the AJ Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University (Pennsylvania), also found mental health conditions present in 44.8 percent of pre-school age children with autism. The scope of the issue among that age group had not previously been established using a large, population-based sample.

By contrast, the study found that only 14.1 percent of youth without autism (ages 3-17) had mental health conditions.

It is the first research since 2008 to examine the prevalence of mental health conditions among children with autism at a population level. It signals a need for healthcare systems to adapt to account for the overlap.

“For a long time, mental health in kids with autism was neglected because the focus was on autism. There’s much greater awareness now, but we don’t have enough people trained to provide mental health treatments to kids on the autism spectrum,” said Dr. Connor Kerns, an assistant professor in UBC’s psychology department and lead author of the study. “We need to bridge these two systems and the different sets of providers that tend to treat these children.”

Autism is a complex brain development disorder that impacts approximately 2.6 percent of the U.S. population. People with autism can have difficulty communicating and interacting socially. They often demonstrate restricted, repetitive behaviour patterns. The term “spectrum” reflects that symptoms can vary widely from one person to the next.

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