Emotional Health in young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

It is widely acknowledged that individuals with Autism are particularly vulnerable to experiencing co-occurring anxiety and mood disorders, with rates higher than in typically developing individuals.  Adolescents and young adults may be at particular risk due to an awareness of their social difficulties and differences. Associate Professor Jane McGillivray at the CMHWR has led a study of nearly 100 young people with Autism, establishing high levels of self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety, with many individuals scoring in the severe/extreme range in one or both areas.  Although fewer in number, females were significantly more impaired than males. 

Together with associate researcher Dr Helen Evert, Jane has drawn on these findings to develop a targeted group intervention program that emphasizes strengths and coping, while challenging distortions in thinking. With funding from the Victorian Department of Human Services, this program is currently being evaluated with 32 people with Autism who have elevated anxiety and/or symptoms of low mood.  A further18 matched individuals have served as a waiting list comparison and are now undertaking the program.  Preliminary findings indicate that the program is effective in reducing anxious and negative thoughts and in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depressed mood in this population. Importantly, the gains appear to be maintained at 3 and 6 month follow-up.

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