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Depression common among young adults with Asperger syndrome

Given that almost 70% of young adults with Asperger syndrome have suffered from depression, it is vital that psychiatric care staff are aware of this so that patients are given the right treatment, reveals research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Tove Lugnegård, researcher at the University of Gothenburg, has shown in her thesis that mood disorders and anxiety disorders are very common among young adults with Asperger syndrome. Around 70% of the young adults with Asperger Syndrome in the study reported at least one previous episode of depression, and up to 50 % had had repeated episodes – a remarkable result given that the mean age of the group was just 27 years.

Important to prevent depression

“The results mean that it’s important that psychiatric care staff keep an eye open for the symptoms of depression in young adults with autism spectrum disorders,” says Lugnegård. “This goes for both clinics that carry out assessments for autism spectrum disorders, and for general psychiatric care. Depression and anxiety can be more difficult to detect in people with autism spectrum because their facial expressions and body language are often not as easy to read, and because they may have difficulties in describing emotions. It’s also important to find out more about how to prevent depression among people with autism spectrum.”

One third also have ADHD

Supervised by professor Christopher Gillberg, the thesis also shows that around one third of people with Asperger syndrome also have ADHD, a finding that ties in with previous studies.

In addition, the thesis includes some results of a major research study that compared people with Asperger syndrome with those with schizophrenia. The results show that characteristics can be similar: individuals with schizophrenia and individuals with Asperger syndrome both demonstrated high levels of autistic traits according to a self-report questionnaire. Moreover, the ability to interpret social interactions seems to be just as impaired in schizophrenia as in Asperger syndrome.

Simlilarity between Asperger and schizophrenia

In contrast, none of the 54 people with Asperger syndrome included in the study, had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and just two had had any form of psychotic disorder.

“So it would appear that people with schizophrenia and those with Asperger Syndrome are more similar to each other than previously realized, in terms of both autistic traits and social cognitive disability,” says Lugnegård.

The thesis was successfully defended on Friday 3 February at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

Link to thesis:

Bibliographic data:
Authors: Lugnegård, T, Unenge Hallerbäck, M, Gillberg, C.
Title: Psychiatric comorbidity in young adults with a clinical diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. Journal: Research in Developmental Disabilities 2011 32 (5),1910-1917.

Link to article:

For further information, please contact:
Tove Lugnegård, doctoral student at the Gillberg Centre, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg


Helena Aaberg | idw
Further information:

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