AUTISM & MENTAL HEALTH
As Parents, we know that our children with Autism may experience an increase in social isolation and bullying which can lead to more serious concerns of substance use and suicidality.
Parents of children with special needs know all too well the daily struggles their children face. Bullying, especially at school, is one challenge that can sometimes be hidden from parents. The hurts of bullying and social rebuffs may build up over time: Special Needs Anti-Bullying Toolkit For Parents, Educators and Students – https://bullyfreeworld-bully.nationbuilder.com/toolkit
One Case study suggests the Autism traits that contributed to Suicidality were rigid, detailed, and pervasive thinking patterns, akin to restricted interests. A different study found “another important issue is the belief that autistic individuals should camouflage or mask their autistic traits to conform with societal expectations, for example by forcing themselves to make eye contact with others even when doing so is uncomfortable. Even when correctly diagnosed, it may be challenging for autistic people to access evidence-based psychological treatments. This is a critical failure because a growing body of research shows that many autistic youth and adults benefit from adapted therapies for a range of psychiatric concerns that more effectively integrate their unique strengths and difficulties into treatment. Quantitative and qualitative research studies show that such camouflaging is exhausting and is associated with poor mental health, including suicidal thoughts and behavior. This has important implications for many interventions, including social skills training and behavioral therapies that aim to normalize appearance and behavior at the risk of exacerbating a disconnect between the true self and performing self, potentially increasing anxiety and decreasing self-esteem”. Two out of three people diagnosed with autism as adults reported they have contemplated suicide at some point in their lives, according to a large study published in 2014.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, revealed a three-fold increased risk for a drug use disorder and a two-fold higher risk for alcohol use disorder. In addition, those with autism and a co-morbid substance use disorder had a more than three-fold higher risk of death during an average follow-up period of 8.1 years. “The impact of ASD on the lives of individuals is strongly influenced by co-occurring medical, developmental, or psychiatric conditions. SUD is one important, but little studied, co-occurring condition,” wrote Espen Ajo Arnevik and Sissel Berge Helverschou in their systematic review of autism spectrum disorder and co-occurring substance use disorder in 2016. The frequency of SUD (Substance Use Disorder) among individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders is currently unknown, and one might suspect that the comorbidity is underdiagnosed. It is also apparent that little is known about successful interventions for individuals with ASD and SUD; in fact, typical interventions for SUD may be particularly unsuitable for people with ASD. Source
What Can Parents Do
Recovery is not necessarily a cure. It is living life to the fullest despite challenges. Recovery will look different for each person and the plan that is created will reflect that. The goal is to craft treatments and interventions that help along the way. Remember the three ‘P’s: Predict, Prevent, Plan. In order to do this we must have active participation from the individual and the family focusing on wellness and remember that while there is not a cure for mental illness, there are treatments and help to increase coping mechanisms.