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Watch for depression and anxiety in autism.

NEW YORK -- Roughly half of all children with autism have depression, and more have anxiety or irritability, an assessment of 627 pediatric patients shows.

As a result of these findings, children with autism should routinely undergo screening for depression and anxiety, and should receive treatment if either comorbidity exists, Susan D. Mayes, Ph.D., and her associates said in a poster presented at the meeting.

Depression and anxiety had an increased prevalence in older children with autism, in children with a more severe presentation, and in those with a higher IQ, said Dr. Mayes, professor of psychiatry at Penn State University in Hershey, Pa., and her associates. The prevalence of depression and anxiety showed no apparent relationship with sex, race, or socioeconomic status.

The researchers assessed the prevalence of these comorbidities in 1,607 children aged 1-17, including 667 diagnosed with autism, 853 children diagnosed with another psychiatric disorder (including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, mental retardation, or brain injury), and 187 apparently healthy children. All of the children with autism had both a clinical diagnosis and a score in the autistic range on the Checklist for Autism

Spectrum Disorder. The investigators assessed the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and irritability with the Pediatric Behavior Rating Scale.

The prevalence of depression ran 54% in children with high-functioning autism (an IQ of at least 80) and 42% among those with low-functioning autism (an IQ of less than 80). By comparison, 19% of the children without any psychiatric disorder or brain injury met the depression criteria.

The percentage of children with anxiety reached 79% in the children with high-functioning autism and 67% in the low-functioning group, while irritability was tallied in 88% and 84% of the two autism subgroups. By comparison, 44% of the children without autism or another psychiatric diagnosis met the criteria for anxiety as well as for irritability.

Age played a strong role in the prevalence of depression and anxiety among the children with autism. In children aged 1-5 years old, the prevalence of depression ran 28% in the high-functioning group and 22% in the low-functioning children with autism.

Dr. Mayes said she had no relevant financial disclosures.


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Author:Zoler, Mitchel L.
Publication:Clinical Psychiatry News
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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