• Autism is defined as a neurological and developmental disorder that hinders one’s communicative and social abilities.
  • Depression, however, is a mood disorder, characterized by severe sadness and a lack of interest in everyday activities; and anxiety comes with fearful feelings as well as racing or unwanted thoughts.
  • While there are different causes for all of the conditions above, people with autism are at a heightened risk of developing depression and anxiety due to genetic factors and social dispositions.
  • The good news is that there is effective treatment for autism, depression, and anxiety: counseling or therapy.
  • Counselors can design treatment to help each client’s specific presentation of symptoms: for example, they can help clients with autism learn social skills and individuals with depression and anxiety adopt healthier thoughts.

Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder, whereas depression is a mood disorder and generalized anxiety as well as social anxiety are, well, anxiety disorders. So, what’s the connection between these seemingly dissimilar conditions? Someone might struggle with all of the above—and if they have autism, they are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, too. To understand why, let’s first go over the characteristics of each disorder.

Understanding Autism: Symptoms and Effects

As mentioned above, autism is a neurological and developmental disorder that impairs an individual’s communication and social interactions. Most people experience symptoms within the first few years of life, which include:

  • Repetitive movements
  • Poor eye contact
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Speech delay
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Sensitivity to sound

While this disorder can range in severity, autism often impacts the afflicted individual’s learning and social abilities.

Depression and Anxiety: Causes and Symptoms

Depression, on the other hand, is a common mood disorder characterized by a deep sadness or despair and loss of interest in life. Additionally, those who suffer with depression often present harmful symptoms like:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Social isolation

There isn’t a single cause of depression. Instead, a number of factors can lead to depression, including traumatic experiences, grief and loss, serious illnesses, conflict, and mere genetics. This is true for anxiety disorders as well: anxiety can be brought on by environmental factors like stress or stem from genetics and medical factors. Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Lack of concentration
  • Racing or unwanted thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Excessive worry
  • Fear
  • Insomnia

Is Autism a Risk Factor for Depression and Anxiety?

You might have noticed that one factor in the development of both depression and anxiety is having another medical condition—which includes autism. When it comes to autism, one is at a greater risk of developing depression and anxiety due mostly to genetics—however, social shortcomings also play a role. Tasha Oswald, Licensed Psychologist and Founder and Director of Open Doors Therapy, explains:

“Depression and anxiety occur at significantly higher rates in people on the autism spectrum, due to a genetic predisposition, compared to the general public. However, the social deficits present in people with autism increase their risk for developing anxiety and depression. As they enter late childhood and adolescence, where understanding social cues becomes crucial to social success, youth with autism become sadly aware of their challenges with socially keeping up with their peers.

In addition, older children and teens with autism are often socially rejected or bullied by peers, and have difficulty identifying and understanding their own complex emotions and the seemingly unpredictable social world in which they live. These negative social experiences, combined with difficulties in processing complex emotions, heighten social anxiety and depressed mood in people with autism.”

The good news is that there is effective treatment for those with autism, depression, anxiety, or all of the above: therapy and counseling prove significant in helping these individuals cope with their symptoms and live a healthy, happy life despite their diagnoses.

Counseling: Effective Treatment for Many

If you’ve been diagnosed with autism, depression, anxiety, or all of the above, counseling can prove helpful. Your counselor will assess your presentation of symptoms and design therapy to best benefit you—whether you have autism and are struggling to relate to others, you are feeling depressed and have no desire to engage, or you have anxious thoughts and feelings. If you’re ready to get started, so are we. Schedule an appointment with a counselor at Thriveworks today.